During almost 30 years at the University of Tennessee Police Department, Deputy Chief Jeff Severs helped bring most of UTPD’s training in-house—a move that has allowed the department to quickly and more efficiently prepare new officers to serve the community.
In light of these and other efforts, Severs has received a statewide honor for his leadership in improving law enforcement.
The Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police recently awarded Severs its highest-level Leadership Certificate Award. The honor recognizes technical training, academic achievements, leadership and management experience, service, and contributions to the law enforcement profession.
Severs is currently deputy chief over UTPD’s operations division, which is composed of 45 staff members, including eight supervisors. He oversees multiple units including patrol squads, special events, the motorcycle unit and the K-9 unit.
When Severs first arrived at UTPD, the department didn’t do any of its own training and instead relied on outside agencies. To address that need, he and another colleague were the first two certified to teach defensive tactics to UTPD officers in-house. The department now conducts the majority of its officer training, including firearms training and emergency vehicle operations training (EVOC).
“Our officers train just like any other law enforcement officer would in terms of tactics and statutory requirements. But the people who work here understand our community,” Severs said. “We had received feedback from members of our community about negative encounters with law enforcement officers in the past. You talk to many of our students who have had encounters with our officers and they see them as respectful and courteous.”
Severs pitched the idea for—and provided research to support—the creation of a UTPD motorcycle unit. The unit is highly visible and critical to the department’s ability to address issues surrounding traffic, speed and pedestrian safety during business hours when the bulk of the UT community is on campus.
“They are the people I can use to rectify these issues through enforcement and education,” he said.
In 2008 while a captain, Severs became responsible for the security planning for home football games. At the time, it was difficult to decipher what roles belonged to which partner law enforcement agency. Severs spearheaded the process to clearly divide and assign responsibilities among football law enforcement partners. This way, emergency personnel could more efficiently provide a rapid response to address a game day issue.
“That is constantly evolving and a work in progress,” he said. “We’re always looking at how we can do things better.”