UTMB Police Chief Tom Engells joined UTMB in 2010 and is responsible for the delivery of comprehensive police and progressive security services for UTMB and the Galveston National Laboratory.
Engells has many years of police experience in academic health care settings. In prior roles, he served as assistant chief of police at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He also has extensive experience in commanding a large police and security operation. Engells is both an assessor and team leader for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and a facilitator and assessor for the Texas Police Best Practices Recognition Program. In addition, he is an executive fellow at the Police Foundation.
Engells is a Texas Master Peace Officer with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, a master’s degree in Criminal Justice Management from Sam Houston University and a master’s degree in homeland security and defense from the Naval Postgraduate School.
What does the Road Ahead look like for you?
The Road Ahead is our institutional strategic plan. I think our core values are best expressed in our everyday work instead of being just nice words on paper. We have a real commitment to life-long learning. My Road Ahead is dominated by ongoing learning and active-succession management. The preparation of my officers and staff for the demands of tomorrow remains one of my greatest challenges and the most rewarding of all accomplishments.
What are the biggest challenges you face as UTMB’s Chief of Police?
The position of Chief of Police at UTMB is simultaneously the same as that of my colleagues across the United States, and yet profoundly unique because of the complex academic medical center in which I work.
My biggest challenge is maintaining a sense of security awareness within the community. Through a successful and ongoing partnership, we have achieved a minimal level of violent felony criminal activity. That is a true tribute to effective on-the-ground awareness found within the community and a solid mutual trust between the patrol officers and the people they serve.
You’ve been named UT System Police Chief of the Year twice since joining UTMB. What would you attribute most to your success?
The Police Chief of the Year honors were both unexpected and very humbling. The recognition on the state level brought significant attention to our work at UTMB. I attribute all the success to the work of my officers. These dedicated men and women do amazing work so regularly here that it has become a routine expectation. From life-saving events to significant charitable campaigns for the community, my folks accomplish a lot without fanfare or publicity. My success is attributed to their hard work on a daily basis.
What was your first job?
I was 12 years old and my first job was newspaper carrier for my hometown’s morning newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman. From a small route of about 75 subscribers, over the next five years, it grew to become a very large route of more than 300 subscribers and I went from a bicycle to a car for deliveries.
Today, such work is done by adults and subscribers pay in advance. But back in the early 1970s when Austin barely had 250,000 residents, subscribers paid on a monthly basis for services received. A morning newspaper carrier has a unique vantage point. Some of my subscribers were very poor, but they paid their bills on time (sometimes even with postage stamps). But I also had subscribers of substantial means who would literally hide from a 12 year old who had come to their door to receive payment for newspapers delivered to them the previous month. I will never forget that dichotomy.
What do you like to do outside of work?
On Saturdays, I truly enjoy going shopping at a local “big box store” and purchasing the discarded refugee plants ($1 plants, but never more than $3). These plants are charitably a sad group of stressed and nearly dead botanicals. My wife and I make it a project to see what we can resurrect from near death to full bloom in our little gardens. I think we average about a 75 percent survival rate. My wife reminds me that my applications of fertilizers and plant stimulants (aka “grow juice”) do not conform to any written directions or manufacturer recommendations. My stance: “They can grow their plants—I will grow my plants.”
Do you have any hidden talents?
A somewhat hidden talent is that I make lots of candy each holiday season. For more than 35 years, I have made holiday fudge. Literally, pounds and pounds of fudge are made in our kitchen starting on Thanksgiving evening. We have tried a variety of flavors over the years, each with a differing level of success. I thought dark chocolate with coconut would be a big hit…hmmm, it was not.
Making candy can lead to some unexpected results. For example, white chocolate fudge with a blend of cinnamon red hots turns a most amazing color of pink and the red hots turn into gelatinous goo—not a real fan favorite. Finally, if you blend a nice peanut butter fudge with a few cups of dry roasted peanuts, your end result resembles nothing more than peanut cement—also not a top 10 flavor. (Even my Mom called me out on that one.)
It is alleged that I am a bit on the conservative side, for I still use a sauce pan purchased in 1982 from Woolworths. My contention is it still works; however, wooden spoons—not so much.
What’s something you always wanted to do but have not done yet?
I would like to work with iron in a blacksmith shop. I have been fascinated by the work of metal workers and the useful items that they can craft at a forge. I think working with metal could be great fun and a worthy alternative to free weights.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I would like to return to Washington, D.C. I lived near the District years ago and would like to travel back to hear oral arguments at the Supreme Court on the first day of a term, which is the first Monday in October.