It’s a career kids dream about and college students fear, but for John McCandless, Miami University Police Department (MUPD) chief, it’s just another day on the job.
“I typically get in every morning between 6:30 and 7 a.m. and I read all the reports,” McCandless said. “The weekend is obviously a little busier, but (on) Monday I go through the reports and if there is something that I think is going on, I pull the reports.”
According to McCandless, if a specific incident catches his eye, he must report the occurrence to other administrators within the university.
“I’ll usually call my boss, the vice president, the dean of students and Claire Wagner of communications,” McCandless said. “(I contact) this core group of people just to make sure everyone is aware of what’s going on.”
A typical day for McCandless involves reviewing police reports and meeting with students and organizations, but the chief is never really off duty.
“When the weekends roll around, I joke that I am always on call,” McCandless said. “On Thursday, Friday or Saturday night it’s not unusual for me to get a call anywhere from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., which is fine because that’s what my job is. It’s kind of a 24/7 job, but there is some down time on spring and summer breaks when I can take some time off if I wanted to.”
For McCandless, the busy schedule is not always overbearing.
“I have always loved the job, but you have to go into it knowing that you can’t always have the personal life that you want outside,” McCandless said. “I have wonderful people that work for me that I can call and take care of things.”
McCandless has been in law enforcement for 28 years and has been the MUPD chief for the last six.
“I worked for 22 years up in Michigan before I got here (to Miami),” McCandless said. “I chose to become a police officer probably because I have an older brother who is in the field and it kind of looked like it was something different. It wasn’t just a desk job.”
McCandless received his undergraduate degree from Ferris State University and his master’s degree in public administration from Western Michigan University.
More than anything else, McCandless looked up to his brother James and what he did. James is no longer in law enforcement, but he first got McCandless interested in the field.
“I think for me, watching my brother helped to prepare for my policing career,” the chief said. “I knew there were goofy hours and midnight shifts, so I already knew what to expect. I think the secret for me was knowing what it was going to be like before I got into it, and there was no disappointment.”
Coming to Miami
The entire process of finding a chief position took McCandless about 18 months total. He was a finalist for six different areas, including the University of Utah, Shippensburg University and University of North Florida.
“When you search for this type of job, it’s kind of a lengthy process and they narrow it down to two or three people,” McCandless said. “They will typically fly you out or get you out to where they’re at and you have to take a look and see if it is a good fit for you.”
For the positions in which McCandless thought he would have been a good fit, he was not one of the successful candidates. There were also some job offers he turned down because he didn’t believe it would be a good fit, whether it was the organization or geographically it wasn’t going to be a good place to live.
“When Miami came up, I was also the finalist for the University of Utah, which is a gorgeous place,” McCandless said. “I was actually offered the chief position at both campuses at the same time. Because I have some family up in Michigan, I just thought that this was better.”
McCandless said while moving from Michigan to southern Ohio was a long distance, he decided Utah was much too far.
“I really liked the university, the people and I’m only about five hours from where I grew up,” McCandless said. “I’m only about a half a day’s drive to my relatives because my family is mostly located in the midwest.”
McCandless said the fact that each day is different is what he loves most about his job.
“I really do enjoy helping people, (and) we can impact people in a positive way,” McCandless said. “I think that Miami is a unique place for students to come and our officers want to make it the best experience.”
According to McCandless, every time there is movement up a notch on a career ladder there has to be some kind of a tradeoff. The chief admitted there were tradeoffs with his own family life.
“For me and most people, higher positions will cause you to miss stuff,” McCandless said. “If you ask my kids, they will tell you I wasn’t always there to see their soccer or football games. I think the time that you have to put into your job is the hardest thing, but I am not the only one who experiences that.”
His son agrees that it was sometimes hard for his dad to make it to events.
“My dad was very good at attending my senior soccer games, but there were many times when he couldn’t come on family vacations because of nightshifts or other work obligations,” Miami junior Matt McCandless said.
Chief McCandless said family is not the only aspect of life that is impacted in the line of duty. The hardest part of any police position is delivering bad news because it can affect the officer personally, he said.
“Sadly, I’ve had to tell some parents about the loss of their sons or daughters. It’s never any fun talking to roommates or friends, but I have experienced that through all policing, not just here on campus,” McCandless said. “It’s the worst part of the job because I can’t imagine losing a child. Life will never be the same.”
Teaching through experience
Chief McCandless has also been teaching classes at Miami’s Hamilton campus for the past four years. Criminal Justice 211 is an A-to-Z organized policing course that talks about all of the embassies of the federal government and how they came into the United States.
“The class has evolved from business students to criminal justice students because they have built the criminal justice program to the point where I only have a few students who are not criminal justice majors,” McCandless said. “There is a different level of interest because I expose them to different speakers and what the field entails.”
A fair percentage of the Hamilton program consists of working adults. McCandless likes the fact that there is a mix of traditional students and non-traditional students in his class.
McCandless taught a class at the police academy in Michigan before he came to Miami. He enjoyed teaching and liked interacting with students at Michigan State University.
“I now get to expose the students to what happens at MUPD, and many people don’t always know what goes on around here,” McCandless said. “I’ve got the material that you are expected to cover from the book, but then I also can talk about real life experiences from the programs that I am involved in or bring in individuals from the field to speak that can further explain their profession because I don’t know everything.”
McCandless said his class is different because the students are able to interact to see what they do and don’t like.
“It isn’t really him standing up and lecturing to the students, which is what I really like about the class,” sophomore Paige Saurber said.
When looking back at his professional career, McCandless is amazed because he wasn’t a great student. He received average grades but was never afraid of hard work and always did what was asked of him.
“I think when you do those things, good things will happen for you,” junior Kelly Spurlock said. “If you have had a good professional life, you should have nothing to compla
With a fulfilling career path, McCandless believes law enforcement has been a good choice and continues to be a good choice for him.
“I think that all Miami students really are a cut above,” McCandless said. “I like interacting with them because they are very polite and very courteous with a good upbringing. For me, coming to a quality place like Miami has been very fortunate.”