The atmosphere inside Notre Dame’s Unified Command Post during a home football game has the thrumming intensity of a beehive.
Outside the glass of the post’s window, there are more than 83,000 happy people cheering on the team, eating nachos and hot dogs, listening to the band and all around having fun.
Inside the post, located in the Duncan Student Center, about 20 officers who head about a dozen different law enforcement, fire, medical, safety and other emergency concerns are watching the people watching the game. There’s a lot of talking at low levels, a lot of radio and phone traffic, and a lot of conferring amongst themselves and with their extended teams spread all around the stadium and campus.
Their attention is trained on everything and anything that could mean trouble — a visitor with a sprained ankle, a fight, someone who’s had too much to drink, sudden storms, VIP guests who need extra security, lost children, things that look odd or out of place and need to be checked out further. That’s the short list.
Keri Kei Shibata (EMBA ’16) heads this symphonic effort. Her job as the Notre Dame Security Police chief is to listen to multiple conversations at the same time, engage in multiple conversations at the same time, make quick but thoughtful decisions about any incidents that arise and coordinate the efforts of the agencies in the room, while not dictating or micromanaging their actions, or panicking.
And if she performs her job flawlessly, the people in the stands notice nothing, and she wraps up her 12-hour day and goes home.
“To be able to not get caught up in that noise or in the whirlwind of activity, and to stay steady throughout takes a specific type of leader,” said Mike Seamon (MBA ’94, MGT ’92), vice president for Campus Safety and Event Management and Shibata’s boss. “That room is full of leaders, so she’s a leader among leaders.”
Keri Kei (pronounced “Kay”) Shibata was named as the chief of Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP), effective July 1, 2016. Her office on the second floor of Hammes Mowbray Hall was formerly occupied by her boss and mentor, Phil Johnson (EMBA ’99, ’81). Johnson, who served as NDSP chief from 2007 to 2017, was promoted to senior director of campus safety and emergency management.
Shibata has a calm, warm, alert, earnest demeanor that simultaneously says, “Trust me,” and “Don’t mess with me.” She’s tall, carries herself with the surety of an athlete, and typically opts for business-casual blazers and slacks when not in uniform. (Although that’s business casual with a service revolver holstered to her hip and a golden badge — a serious chunk of metal that looks like it weighs at least a pound — around her neck.) Her cell phone pings incessantly.
Before Shibata stepped into her role as chief, NDSP had become a sizable, sophisticated agency in its own right, with highly trained sworn officers, investigators, non-sworn safety officers and dispatchers, as well as an extensive relationship with the local, county and state police forces, professional enforcement agencies such as the FBI, and a host of community groups.
“I sometimes say that we’re at the intersection of corporate security and safety, and a traditional law enforcement model,” said Johnson. “That’s a pretty large hunk of responsibilities. We’re charged with protecting the University’s assets and physical plant. But that’s secondary to the protection of the people — the safety of all of our community members, our guests, our visitors.”
So how does one go about taking over a well-functioning department, formed under the guidance of legendary leaders, packed with veteran officers, charged with managing anything from issuing parking tickets to possible terrorist attacks?
You get the sense that Shibata didn’t even need to take a deep breath. Her career, after all, didn’t start the day she was named, but years before when Seamon and Johnson first identified her for leadership development. And realistically, it started years before that, when even as a child, she realized two things: She liked to lead, and she had a natural bent toward serving others.
Shibata grew up in Harbor Springs, Michigan, a smallish coastal town located just southwest of the tip of the mitten. Her father, Timothy, was a career Michigan State Trooper. Her mother, Cynthia, taught first grade in the local elementary school. In fact, Shibata had her for a teacher.
“I had to call her ‘Mrs. Shibata,’” she recalls. “She didn’t want them to know that I was her daughter because she didn’t want any perception of favoritism — neither of us did. It was not until the end of the school year that people figured out that she was my mom.”
If that seems weird or harsh, it doesn’t at all to Shibata. Her upbringing certainly could be described as strict — they went to church a lot and didn’t have a TV — but Shibata doesn’t linger over that. Instead, she paints a picture of a childhood steeped in family, faith and service, with a strong sense of community and a healthy amount of love for the outdoors, which continues today. Shibata’s paternal grandparents served as lifelong Lutheran missionaries in Japan, where her dad was born and grew up.
“My parents were both very service-minded and worked in helping professions,” said Shibata, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Biblical literature from Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana, with the intention of becoming a pastor. “I never, ever wanted to be anything other than in a helping profession.”
From an outside viewpoint, you might describe Shibata’s career as an arc extending from her interests and aspirations in service, support and counseling, to a traditional role in security and enforcement.
Shibata doesn’t see it that way at all. There is no arc; it’s all of a whole cloth.
“I see law enforcement as very much a helping profession. When I think about the important things that we do, it’s not about arresting people. It’s about helping a lost child or helping people solve problems in their lives in one way or another,” said Shibata. “I think that’s why campus law enforcement is such a good fit for me. At Notre Dame, we don’t have to spend a ton of time doing enforcement. We can spend more time on service and outreach, and empowering people to have safe, healthy, happy lives.”
ABOUT THAT HEADLINE
When Shibata first interviewed at Notre Dame in 2004 for a position with the “Quad Squad” — a specialized squad of security officers whose primary focus was the residence halls — she was lobbed that perennial interview question: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Her immediate answer: “Administration.”
“I’m a leader, whether it’s formal or informal,” she said. “It’s wasn’t like a goal I needed to accomplish; it’s just me. I’m a leader, and I can’t help wanting to be a leader.”
There are few people who can state, “I’m a leader,” without raising eyebrows — and cynicism. But with Shibata, you simply nod. It’s like stating the sky is blue. There is a directness and steadiness, and smartness, about her that dispels any notion of ego or guile.
After serving for about a year on Quad Squad, Shibata jumped at the opportunity to become an NDSP officer, graduating from the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Plainfield in 2005. (Her husband, Dave, an officer with the South Bend Police Department, graduated in the following class.)
She eventually served in various roles in the dispatch center, crime prevention and outreach, security and guest services, Clery Act reporting (a federally mandated reporting of campus crime), and training for NDSP personnel and campus safety officers, including security support of all residence halls on campus. Her most recent role prior to chief was deputy chief for safety services.
Throughout her career, she often was the only woman in the room, and the only person of color — not just in the department at Notre Dame, but in numerous meetings with the larger law enforcement community. But she didn’t think much about it until The Observer published a story about Shibata being named chief.
The June 8, 2016, headline was, “University names first woman police chief.” It hadn’t even occurred to Shibata that she was a “first.”
“I started to feel a little bit of pressure about that,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap.’ I don’t want to let other women down. I want to be a good example of a first woman chief so that others can be successful.”
She entered a brief — and uncharacteristic — period of self-doubt. “I started to wonder about some of the things I wanted to do with the department — things that were important to me involving wellness and mindfulness. I wondered if people would not think they were credible, because they were coming from a woman.”
Shibata quickly shook it off. She had good support from ND leadership, including Seamon and Johnson, about where she wanted to take the department. And she realized she was probably the only person thinking about it.
Before she became chief, Shibata decided to earn a graduate degree as part of her leadership development plans, with Seamon’s and Johnson’s encouragement. Business, though, wasn’t the obvious choice, even though both of her bosses had business degrees. “I do think that it gave me a different perspective on the world that I just didn’t have before,” said Shibata of her Notre Dame Executive MBA degree, which she completed in 2016. “It gave me an awareness of how much business is connected to the workings of the world.”
After a year on the job, Shibata has taken a practical approach to leadership. She’s fully cognizant that NDSP employs many individuals who have been at their jobs for a long time, and who have valuable expertise she doesn’t.
“My approach is that everyone has something to contribute. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t,” she said. As openings have become available in the department, she intentionally looks for people who have different experiences and strengths than she does, seeking to add diversity and expertise.
She does have a distinct vision for developing the department. One of the ideas that intrigues her is the aforementioned practice of mindfulness. Stress and even fear are daily features of an officer’s job, said Shibata, and a constant heightened state of stress and fear can lead to reaction that’s not well-anchored in self-awareness or awareness of the situation.
“We have a very machismo kind of culture in law enforcement, and people may not be comfortable admitting that they’re stressed,” said Shibata. “So we try, as leaders, to talk about that. We ask our supervisors to really know their staff. If someone seems to be struggling, we need to have some conversations and see what’s going on and how we can support them.”
For Shibata, practicing yoga and meditation are essential to developing personal mindfulness, but she knows that might not work for everyone. She’s also conscious of the principles of change management, and doesn’t want to be forcing anything — not even yoga — down anyone’s throat.
But it’s important not to miss the potential impact of Shibata’s aim here. She considers the work that she, her team and University leadership are doing in the area of escalating a mindful approach to law enforcement into a model to be shared with other organizations to offer real solutions to some of the tragic issues dogging American society. This includes the pervasive mistrust of law enforcement in the broader national landscape.
ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN
As much as we all would like to imagine it, there actually is no magic bubble around Notre Dame. Anything that can happen in the real world can happen here. Shootings at Columbine and the University of Virginia, among others, made that point more than a decade ago. And even if there were a way to partition off the campus, you quickly realize that’s not ideologically possible: We are the world (not to sound like a sappy 80s song title), as complex and messy as that can be, or we wouldn’t be Notre Dame.
The University at its most basic level is a community of human beings, and human beings are themselves complex and messy. That statement is perhaps nowhere more true than when it comes to law enforcement. There is a level where you can’t always conveniently separate out the bad actors from the good. Particularly when it comes to students, who, to an overwhelming degree, are good actors who might be encountering difficulties, or maybe, out with buddies on a Saturday night, uncharacteristically make a really bad decision.
Shibata routinely uses the terms “problem solving” and “tools and resources” instead of “arrest” and “crime” when describing situations where a student has gotten into trouble. Her word choice reflects a deeply held belief that law enforcement, at least at Notre Dame, is about 90 percent providing vital services, and 10 percent enforcement. That’s not to say people don’t get arrested. But Shibata considers arrests as a measure to be taken when someone is a danger to him- or herself or others. The hope is that the resources poured into education and prevention will keep matters from getting that far, especially when it comes to students.
“People are going to have to interact with the police throughout their lives, so one of our duties is to help students understand what our role is in society, and what impact you, as a student, have on the police department,” said Shibata.
These are not just words. NDSP is part of Student Affairs’ Community Assessment Response and Education (CARE) team, a cross-department effort that assists with high-risk cases. These include students struggling with anything from alcoholism and eating disorders, to larger mental health issues. The team assists with a very long list of services, including counseling, finding tutors and arranging for medical care.
This connectedness extends well into the local community. A few years ago, there were a number of well-publicized cases of local police busting student “party houses” in area neighborhoods. The news accounts characterized the actions as being seen by police as necessary to keeping the peace, while students charged they were being targeted.
More recently, NDSP has taken a proactive approach, which Shibata strongly supports. The Northeast Neighborhood Association instigated regular meetings between NDSP, the South Bend Police Department and other local enforcement agencies, and representatives from Notre Dame Student Government.
“A couple of times a year, we’ll come together and talk through any issues the students are experiencing, or police or the University is seeing, and try to keep it very positive,” Shibata said. “It’s absolutely helped. There’s less frustration on all levels.”
But as in any community, there are law enforcement issues that can’t be talked through. Shibata said the level of violent crime on campus isn’t high. But Notre Dame, like any campus, has to be prepared to deal with the “big three” threats: the possibility of an active shooter or other physical threat, mental health issues and sexual assault. As on any campus, issues with alcohol abuse are also ever present.
The crime of sexual assault is the major item that that keeps Shibata awake at night.
“It’s the most common violent crime that we experience at Notre Dame, and most of the time, it’s perpetrated by members of the Notre Dame community against members of the Notre Dame community,” she said.
According to the 2016 Sexual Conduct and Campus Climate Questionnaire Report, which is administered by Notre Dame’s Title IX Office, 14 percent of all students indicated they had experienced some form of non-consensual sexual intercourse or non-consensual sexual contact while a student at Notre Dame. The report characterizes the results as “comparable to peer survey results and national studies,” but also “deeply troubling.”
The University has convened the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention (CSAP), which is a cross-campus group comprising faculty, staff and students that addresses sexual violence and spearheads rape education and prevention initiatives.
Shibata knows that it’s not possible to totally eliminate these threats or “unknowns,” as she refers to them. But she’s very focused on bringing all she has in her arsenal of enforcement tools — planning, connecting resources, learning from other enforcement agencies, educating students, and, yes, arresting when necessary — to keep Notre Dame safe.
“We have a lot of great experience and people with great hearts,” she said. “I know everyone who works for this department cares about doing the right thing, and they care about the Notre Dame community. It’s not just a job.”
ND EXECUTIVE MBA DEGREE:
“I do think that it gave me a different perspective on the world that I just didn’t have before,” said Shibata of her ND Executive MBA degree, which she completed in 2016. “It gave me an awareness of how much business is connected to the workings of the world. The hardest part was I did not understand the language of business; it actually never occurred to me that there was a language of business. Now I can have intelligent conversations with business leaders, who I deal with a lot in my position.”
Shibata considers the work that she, her team and University leadership are doing in the area of escalating a mindful approach to law enforcement into a model to be shared with other organizations to offer real solutions to some of the tragic issues dogging American society. This includes the pervasive mistrust of law enforcement in the broader national landscape.
On campus, Shibata hopes the mindfulness approach will help officers not only better manage their own trauma and stress involved in dealing with crime, but also give them a few more tools to help crime victims as well.