The law enforcement official who led the New Jersey State Police efforts to improve community relations after a racial profiling scandal has been hired as the new police chief at East Carolina University.
Gerald Lewis, who held the rank of major and was commanding officer of the N.J. Police Office of Community Affairs, will retire in early December from the state police after 26 years of service.
He will begin work at ECU on Jan. 21. The university police force has 60 full-time officers, 10 reserve officers and 20 staff members.
Lewis, 50, was selected after a nationwide search led by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, according to Bill Koch, associate vice chancellor for environmental health and campus safety.
"Our search firm delivered a number of well-qualified candidates, but Gerald Lewis simply stood out because of his experience in building relationships and teams," Koch said.
During his career with the N.J. State Police, Lewis held a variety of command, administrative and supervisory roles. He has also been recognized for his efforts to attract more minority men and women to the state police force.
"My first goal is to create the safest environment possible for students, staff and everyone in the ECU community," Lewis said.
"I would like when people talk about the ECU Police Department that professionalism is the first word that they think of," he said. "I want to be a professional police agency, proactive police agency and engaging police agency. And engaging not just in the ECU community but also the surrounding Greenville community because we have to create partnerships."
Lewis is credited with working in New Jersey to strengthen the ties between the state police and the public after racial profiling was found in some state police officers' stops.
He also led the State Police's efforts to address a dearth of minority officers in conjunction with Gov. Chris Christie and the state Attorney General's Office. That work recently resulted in the most diverse class of recruits.
"I would say that my greatest strength is to bring people to the table to create a dialogue. Are we always going to agree? No." But by having a dialogue, progress can be made, he added.
Lewis said he'll be going out to meet Greenville and Pitt County colleagues in his first weeks on the job. "I believe in proactive dialogue. I don't believe in meeting community leaders when we have a crisis."
He earned his bachelor of arts in public administration and his master of administrative sciences degrees from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J.
Even though his professional career has been in New Jersey, Lewis has family roots in the small town of Hertford in northeastern North Carolina.
When he saw the position posting, Lewis said he talked to his wife about the opportunity. The location was an attraction, he said.
"My plan has been to retire to North Carolina," he said. "I've always had a fondness for North Carolina."
And after a visit to campus, he wanted the job even more. "I saw that Chief (Scott) Shelton had laid a great foundation," he said. "I just want to come in and make the police department as effective and efficient as possible."
Lewis and his wife, Michelle Oxendine-Lewis, have two daughters who attend college at Hampton University and their 8-year-old son, Aaron, already has a Pirates football jersey.
"I'm completely humble to be selected to be the chief at ECU and looking forward to being a part of the community," Lewis said.