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UNC’s police chief will retire just as new campus safety review gears up

The rise and fall of Silent Sam

Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.
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Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.

Jeff McCracken, UNC’s police chief and director of public safety, will retire July 1, the university announced Friday, just as interim chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz prepares to convene a committee to look at campus safety issues, including concerns over McCracken’s department.

McCracken joined the department in 1993 as an investigator, the school said in a release. He became operations major in 1997, deputy director in 1998, interim director in March 2007 and was sworn in as chief of police five months later.

During his tenure, McCracken helped develop Alert Carolina, used to notify the campus community of emergencies and share urgent information, the release said. He also worked to improve emergency preparedness on the Chapel Hill campus, including establishing an emergency management director position and organizing emergency-preparedness exercises and safety drills.

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UNC police chief Jeff McCracken talks with five men carrying Confederate flags standing near a sit-in at the base of the Silent Sam Confederate statue on the UNC campus Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. The small group, who refused to give their names, was standing in opposition to a larger group of protesters calling for the removal of the statue. Scott Sharpe ssharpe@newsobserver.com

The department has faced criticism during the past year over the way officers have handled protests centered on Silent Sam, UNC’s Confederate monument.

After unsuccessfully pressing the school administration to challenge state law and remove the monument from McCorkle Place on campus, student protesters and others yanked the statue from its stone pedestal and pulled it to the ground last August. Since then, anti- and pro- Confederate monument groups, have met repeatedly on campus, often with a dozen or more campus officers standing by.

Through it all, campus police have been criticized by both sides. Pro-monument protesters have said the police should have intervened as the statue was vandalized. Anti-monument protesters have said they have been roughed up by officers while their opponents get police escorts onto and off of campus. Some students have called for the elimination of the campus police department.

Officers have been busy the past couple of weeks as well, investigating racist vandalism of the Unsung Founders Monument and an outdoor art exhibit on the morning of March 31, and looking this week into the distribution of anti-Semitic fliers at Davis Library.

Guskiewicz is expected to announce later this month the makeup of the committee that will look at campus safety. He has said it will include students, faculty and staff.

Robert Blouin, UNC provost and executive vice chancellor, said a national search will begin immediately for McCracken’s successor.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.

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