Department History


Above are six graduates of the Northern Illinois University Police Training Institute depicted at the graduation on October 12th, 1971. Northern Illinois University Police Officer Diane Palombi was the first female officer on any university campus in Illinois.

The NIU Department of Police and Public Safety has a rich and exciting history. We went through our archives of annual reports, President’s Papers, NIU News stories and our memories to share some of our favorite events here. If you are doing research or are just curious, visit our office to read more about the history of our department. The NIU Department of Police and Public Safety comes from humble beginnings and has flourished to become a modern agency. 

View historical timelines for:

Police Authority

  • Watchmen 1920
    • Allen Cater then Joseph Willrett were employed as watchmen with little authority. The watchmen merely locked doors after classes ended.
  • City of DeKalb Police 1949
    • William Walsh was the first police officer at Northern and was hired under the grounds department.
    • Walsh’s job duties were to patrol the campus on foot during the daytime and to write parking tickets for cars that were improperly parked.
    • Walsh obtained a City of DeKalb Police uniform, a city badge and city parking violation tickets.
  • City of DeKalb Police 1955
    • Francis Sullivan, who was Sheriff of DeKalb County from 1950 to 1954, was hired as a part time watchman. Sullivan was re-assigned to a policeman for only 11 days before he was elevated to the rank of sergeant.
    • On August 2, 1958, Sullivan became the first “Chief” of police at Northern.
  • DeKalb County Police 1964
    • Chief Sullivan obtained Deputy Sheriff commissions and uniforms for the NIU officers.
  • Northern Illinois University Police 1963
    • The Illinois General Assembly passed legislation which gave complete police authority to the University officers under the Teachers College Board. This meant NIU police had full jurisdiction in all of Illinois and were able to report to the university.

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  • Grounds Building 1920
    • The first watchman reported to the ground building and had no office space. He was left to walk the campus.
  • Barracks on Garden Road 1964
    • The NIU police department moved into the barracks when there were several officers and equipment
  • 375 Wirtz Drive 1964
    • The NIU Police Department moved into the brand new Security and Telephone Building on the campus. Several services are still maintained in this location.
  • 395 Wirtz Drive 2009
    • The NIU Department of Police and Public Safety’s administrative and patrol operations expanded into the newly renovated space to meet the needs of the modern policing.

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  • Vehicle 1958
    • The first vehicle was assigned to the department.
  • Police Service 1961
    • The Police and Watch service was established as its own division under the Director of Business Services, Mr. Z. H. Dorland.
  • Radio Communications 1963
    • A license was granted by the Federal Communications Commission to operate a base station. The radio frequency allowed direct communication between NIU police and with City of DeKalb Police, DeKalb County Sheriff’s Police, Illinois State Police, as well as many other cities in the vicinity. Today, NIU operates through STARCOM, satellite radio communications.
  • Police Academy 1965
    • NIU held a police academy to certify police officers for the State of Illinois for several police agencies in the area.
  • Ambu-wagon 1967
    • NIU Police officers operated a 1965 Ford Ranch station wagon, affectionately called the ambu-wagon. The ambu-wagon had a stretcher and officers with CPR certification would transport students to medical facilities on campus. When the DeKalb Fire Department was on strike, the officers drove DeKalb residents as far as Rockford for medical attention.
  • African American Officer 1968
    • NIU Police hired Robert Phifer. Officer Phifer was the first African American police officer in DeKalb County. Officer Phifer was a U.S. Army Military Police veteran and an NIU student. Officer Phifer retired after 25 years of dedicated service.
  • Police Community Relations 1969
    • A Police Community Relations (PCR) program was instituted for the primary purpose of opening and maintain two-way channels of communication between the police and all segments of our community. Early programs were “rap sessions” and police teams in NIU’s intramural sports. Today, programs are both formal and informal, staying true to the beginnings.
  • Undercover Officer 1970
    • James Carlson was NIU’s first undercover officer. He was hired by Chief James Elliot “to seek criminal information and follow up rumors of a threatening nature.” Carlson’s role was kept secret from the university administration and nearly all police officers.
  • Female Officer October 1971
    • NIU Police hired Diane Palombi. She was the first woman police officer on any state university campus in Illinois. The Rockford native graduated from NIU and majored in sociology. She graduated from NIU’s police academy on October 12th 1971.
  • Bicycle Program 1994
    • Officer Robert Cannon pioneered the NIU police bicycle program. The bicycle program allowed officers to easily reach all parts of campus quickly.
  • K-9 Program 2002
    • The first K-9, Kazan, was a German Shepard trained in Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD). To this day, our EOD K-9 program still makes sure there are no bombs at events such as graduations.
  • Emergency Medical Technician-Basic 2002
    • Police officers graduate the police academy with first responder medical training. All of the NIU police officers went through an additional semester-long course to include scenarios and experience in the emergency room. This provided a heightened level of medical response to the NIU community.
  • Paramedic Program 2005 
    • Two NIU police officers earned paramedic certification after a yearlong training process including months of ambulance experience. These officers primarily acted as police until the need to save lives then they transitioned to paramedic functions. NIU Police equipped a marked police vehicle with the majority of the equipment found in an ambulance.
  • DeKalb County Major Case Squad 2013
    • NIU Police Detectives joined the DeKalb County Major Case Squad for on call basis whenever a member agency requests an activation. This establishes a large group of local detectives who will respond to NIU when needed.
  • Full Scale Exercise 2014
    • The NIU Police conducted the largest full scale exercise in the Northern Illinois region. The exercise simulates an active shooting in a residence hall with a realistic law enforcement and medical response from approximately 90 first responders from multiple agencies at local and federal levels. NIU and local officials were involved to rehearse the response including a mock press conference. This was the first annual full scale exercise.

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Police vehicles 1962 and 2015

Patrol officers 1962 and 2015

Ambuwagon 1967

Police department over the years

This historical information has been gathered from several sources including: the Regional History Center in the Founders Memorial Library, NIU Police inventory and personnel records.

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