Staff Spotlight: Rick Shell
Chief, University Police Department
Hometown: Anchorage, AK
Fun Fact: Has a bulldog named Brutus who’s eaten more than his fair share of bathroom rugs.
Second-generation cop, University Police Department (UPD) Chief Rick Shell redefines the firm handshake, reminding you how fortunate you are to be meeting him under friendly terms. With a team of 16 sworn officers, Rick is tasked with keeping UAA students, staff, faculty and visitors safe on the Anchorage campus and all the satellite buildings and offices throughout the city, and he takes his job very seriously.
Which isn’t to say he can’t have a little fun. He does keep a spare pair of cowboy boots next to his desk, after all.
A member of the Blue Knights since 2000, Rick rallied his Alaska chapter of the biker club to ride with honorary member Erik Estrada (of CHiPs fame) in support of Dare to Care. He’s plunged into an icy Goose Lake in the dead of winter alongside other law enforcement brass as part of a community fundraiser. And he’s run the Flame of Hope through Greece in a show of law enforcement solidarity with Special Olympics athletes.
Born to serve and protect
Born to an Anchorage Police Department (APD) clerk and detective, he was raised in the world of law enforcement and knew from an early age he wanted to be a police officer.
“From the time I was 4 years old, I remember telling people I was going to do that,” he says. “Back then they made welfare wages, so people kept trying to deter me.”
It didn’t work. Rick graduated from Service High School and joined APD as soon as they would have him. He was 18 years old.
“I graduated in June of ’81 and got hired by the Anchorage Police Department in October of ’81 as a police cadet,” he says. “That was a civilian position they developed for young folks between 18 and 21 who knew that they had an interest in law enforcement.”
He was commissioned as a sworn officer in 1984, proud mom in attendance.
“I’ve always been a mama’s boy and I’m not ashamed of it,” he says.
He moved up the ranks to sergeant before being lured over to UPD in 2006 and promoted to chief in 2010.
Former UPD Chief Dale Pittman—whom Rick had worked alongside in Spenard in the 80s—mentioned some of the benefits of working for the university, including the possibility of free tuition for eligible family members. With four kids—three sons and a daughter—about to hit college then, that helped seal the deal.
One of his sons is a graduate of UAA’s psychology program and considering a career with the FBI. There just may be a chance for a third generation to continue the Shell law enforcement legacy.
So after decades on the streets of Anchorage, just how does UAA compare? Are we a microcosm of the larger city or are we like a safe neighborhood?
“Well, it’s both,” he says. “In Anchorage we responded to problems. Here, we have the opportunity to prevent problems.”Pro tip: Be a little more vigilant with your valuables. UPD gets a lot of theft calls—folks who have walked away from their laptops for a little study break and come back to find they no longer have a computer.
UPD officers work to connect with and educate the campus community while also receiving professional training to maintain a team ready to respond to a campus crisis.
“I make sure that this department is equipped with the tools and the knowledge that it needs to respond to what is happening around campuses nationwide,” says Rick.
“One of the things that I’m most proud of is we have brought our weapons and training up to the same standard as APD. My folks can respond in the event, God forbid, that we have an active assailant on campus. They can respond without having to wait for APD to show up to take action.”
‘Freezin’ for a Reason’ and other commitments
Rick’s days are full meeting the needs of a busy campus community, but he also makes time for another important organization as a board member and volunteer for Special Olympics.
Every year he helps organize safety and logistics for their big fundraiser, the Polar Plunge. Last year, they rallied 1,200 sponsored folks to take the icy plunge into Goose Lake. More than 5,000 donors backed the event whose tagline is “Freezin’ for a Reason.” Watch some of the bravery and madness here. The money they raise helps to support Special Olympic athletes.
Rick is also on the board for the Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police and the Western Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators as the state representative. He’s a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals. He’s also a lifetime NRA member.
The parting words that wrap up our interview with UAA’s white hat might do more to put Rick’s desk-side cowboy boots in context: “I believe it’s a shame John Wayne isn’t still alive.”