5 Questions with UPD Chief Paul Burlingame

A smiling man in a dark suit and an officer in State Police uniform stand between the U.S. and N.Y. flags
President Havidán Rodríguez stands with Paul Burlingame just after he was officially sworn in as chief of the University Police Department.

ALBANY, N.Y. (Oct. 7, 2021) — Paul Burlingame was officially sworn in as chief of the University Police Department last week, but he’s no stranger to the job or the University. Burlingame joined UPD 19 years ago, became interim chief in June of 2020 after former Chief Frank Wiley retired, and was named chief in July.

Burlingame grew up in Yorkville, near Utica, in the house where his mom still lives, and moved to Albany after graduating college. Before he joined UPD he worked for five years as a corrections officer, a job that taught him how to really listen to and talk with people. “Those skills have served me well throughout my career,” he said.

How and when did you decide to become a police officer?

I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a police officer. I guess it is a little strange, since I didn’t have any family in law enforcement or an experience that drove me to become a police officer. I can remember sitting in a circle in third grade, with the teacher asking each of us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I don’t think I had even talked about it with my parents at that point, but I didn’t have to think about it or hesitate with my answer. I knew who I was supposed to be.  

What’s an average day at the University look like for you?

The great thing about policing is that there is no average day. My goal is to start the day reviewing the things that happened the night before, checking in with the command staff and shift supervisor, and following up with University partners on outstanding issues. There are always upcoming events to plan, projects on campus designed to improve safety or security, or crime prevention efforts to implement. It is easy to get sucked into what is happening that day, whether it is incident based or preparation related, but thankfully I have great people that I work with that balance it well.

Every level of our operation needs to be trained and equipped for success, and success is often a moving target. So, while I spend some time each day making sure we are providing great service and are ready for the next challenge, I set aside time to making sure we are staying engaged so we know where we need to go next.

How has policing changed since you joined a force?

Policing has changed drastically in the past 20 years. There has been an infusion of technology that has taken us from taking and tracking reports with pen and paper to systems that capture and organize information from sources all over the world. Technology now plays a role in every aspect of our operation.

I’d advise anyone looking for a career to consider law enforcement because there are so many different opportunities now, in addition to becoming an officer. I think almost every skill set and interest has a place in this field. From technical fields to the social sciences, if you wanted to be a part of the law enforcement system and help move us forward, there is an opportunity for you to make your mark.

What do you like about working on a college campus?

I think it is the variety that I like the best. There are people from all over the world at UAlbany, each with a different set of expectations and experiences. And each year, about a quarter of our population graduates and we welcome another class to campus. It is never the same old thing.

I also think that our community has high expectations of their police department, so we are always finding new ways to reach our faculty, staff and students and improve our service. We also see a lot of value in focusing on crime prevention, and that takes community partnerships. Every crime has a victim, so any incident we can prevent has the potential to remove barriers to success. If we succeed, our students succeed and vice versa. I’m not sure if other departments have that direct link to their community, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

What’s your favorite spot on campus?

That is a tough one. I like walking through the Downtown Campus and Alumni Quad — maybe it is that sense of history that helps me stay grounded when I’m not back in Yorkville. But I think the Main Campus has a lot of new places that can be inspiring as well.

If I had to pick one place, I’d have to pick Casey Stadium. I have always been a team sports guy. I loved being part of a team growing up, and I valued the lessons you learn in competition. Watching our student athletes benefit from those same lessons, and the excitement that goes with competing at a high level, that’s a great time. My sons got me hooked on lacrosse, and watching the best players in the country going at it on our campus? How can it get better than that?