New chief of police brings 20 years of experience


Public Safety Director and Chief of Mount Pleasant Police, Paul Lauria, poses for a portrait in his office on Jan. 25 at the Mount Pleasant Police Department on High Street.

The Mount Pleasant police department’s new police chief and director of public safety was born into law enforcement.

The son of a district court magistrate and brother of three police officers, Paul Lauria has spent 20 years as a Mount Pleasant police officer. At a young age, he set his sights on being a police chief. In February, he’ll accomplish that goal.

Lauria will take over following Chief Glenn Feldhauser’s retirement on Feb. 24. City Manager Nancy Ridley said Lauria is working side-by-side with Feldhauser to ensure a smooth transition.

“(Lauria) has the ability to develop community partnerships (and) is committed to listening and being involved with the community, to make sure public safety is meeting the needs of the community,” Ridley said.

Like many of his fellow officers, Lauria started out in law enforcement because he wanted to do good and “catch bad guys.” But his priorities changed early on in his career.

“At some point (you ask) how do I make a bigger impact?” Lauria said. “For me it was moving up the ladder and into a position where I can take everything I’ve learned and put a stamp on the city and community.”

As director of public safety, Lauria will be in charge of 29 police officers along with 12 full-time and 16 part-time firefighters. Coming from law enforcement, Lauria said he has plenty to learn about operating a fire department.

“Obviously I won’t be the one going out and fighting the fires,” he said. “What I have to know is how to make sure our men and women have the training, knowledge and tools to do their job.”

Executive Director of Student Affairs Shaun Holtgreive served on the panel that helped select the new chief. He said it was an easy choice to make.

“He understands that because he’s director of public safety, not the chief of police or the chief of the fire department, (he) has to be able to work with both entities and understand both sides of that business,” Holtgreive said.

Mount Pleasant is unique, Lauria said. There’s a well-educated, diverse and multicultural community, but that doesn’t do it justice.

“You tell me another community that is rural in nature, has a major university and a major, federally recognized American Indian reservation,” he said. “You need to be able to help and understand everybody.”

Lauria wants the department to reach out to everyone in the Mount Pleasant community. His goal is to make people comfortable reaching out to the police — whether they’re in need of help or not.

“I want there to be an open door policy,” he said. “I’m bound to make mistakes. I am bound to miss certain groups. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about them or am not willing to listen because I certainly am.”

Some students might be frustrated with police following the recent “crack down” on student behavior, Lauria said. He isn’t “passing the buck,” but he added the police are tasked by the city, and the desire of residents, to enforce the law.

Lauria said he’s made plenty of mistakes in his life and doesn’t think he’s better than anyone else. He doesn’t want anyone to call him director — he wants people to see him as Paul.

Police understand that students want to enjoy “the college experience,” but there has to be a balance, Lauria said.

“Collectively, we’re hoping there becomes a more acceptable environment for everyone,” he said. “I’ve learned the hard way in my personal life, and maybe in my professional life, the importance of keeping balance — it exists for officers too.”

The most important aspect an officer has to balance is empathy, he said.

Looking at the world in black-and-white terms is easy, but it’s harder to look at the world from another person’s viewpoint, Lauria said. He pointed to the recent increase in heroin use as an example.

“Do you think that’s just the dirty, rotten criminals that are getting addicted?” He asked. “It’s not. It is nondiscriminatory and affects everyone from the bottom to the famous.

(Having empathy) doesn’t mean there isn’t accountability, but empathy can go a long way to understanding that there’s more to the world than just right and wrong.”

He wants his officers to share his sense of empathy and humility.

“I’m asking my officers to always keep in mind the humanity of the person they’re dealing with,” he said.