Deputy Chief David M. Honan joined the Cornell University Police Department at a friend’s encouragement in 1995 and planned to patrol campus for a few years, maybe. Instead, he rose through the ranks and will take over next month as the department’s top cop, Cornell announced Friday.
“I don’t know how else to put it, I just really like the Cornell community,” Honan said Friday morning during an interview in his Barton Hall office. “I’ve really found a home here.”
Honan will succeed Kathy Zoner on March 4, when she leaves for a school safety consultant group after almost a decade as chief.
The Cornell Police Department employs 46 sworn officers — including the leadership staff — who have the same powers as municipal police departments to make arrests and use force when permitted by law, as well as 27 civilian staff members including dispatchers, records staff and people working in the business office.
Joanne DeStefano, executive vice president and chief financial officer, chose Honan after he expressed interest in the position. It is unclear if Cornell considered any other candidates for the job. Officers were informed of DeStefano’s decision on Friday morning.
Cornell also announced on Friday that when Honan is sworn in, the Police Department will begin reporting to Rick Burgess, the vice president for facilities and campus services, instead of DeStefano.
“Dave will be a superb leader, and I look forward to working with him in the years ahead,” Burgess said in a statement.
Calling Honan “a trusted leader” and “a strong advocate for community policing,” DeStefano said that the deputy chief’s “deep understanding of Cornell and his off-campus law enforcement experience make him the best choice to lead Cornell’s police department.”
Cornell’s announcement late on a Friday afternoon followed a call from the Student Assembly president for campus stakeholders to have a say in the decision.
Born in Rochester, N.Y., Honan first came to Ithaca in 1989 to study music at Ithaca College, where he played the tuba. But halfway through college, he switched his major to sociology with a concentration in criminal and juvenile justice.
He then worked as a security guard at a Rochester hospital, handling shootings, stabbings and a wide array of cases including frequent interactions with people in the psychiatric unit, before joining the Cornell Police Department as an officer.
“Cornell was initially my short-term plan and I’ve been here for over 20 years,” he said. “I intend to be here for quite a while.”
Honan told The Sun that one of his first goals after taking over is to meet with members of student government, historically marginalized groups, faculty and staff to get their input about how he should shape the future of the department.
“Community policing was very popular in the campus setting long before any municipality picked it up,” Honan said, adding that his “passion is building bridges and connections with the community.”
The deputy chief said he was lucky to have worked closely with Zoner over the years and wants to continue her dedication to connecting with all swaths of the campus constituency.
“Kathy has been a wonderful mentor,” Honan said. “I don’t know if I’ll be ever be able to match her sense of humor, but she certainly has taught me a lot about taking a very positive approach to all engagements with all the people that we deal with.”
Earlier this week, Student Assembly President Varun Devatha ’19 asked for a meeting with administrators to discuss how to involve students in the search process, saying that it would be “beneficial to have students engaged sort of from the beginning.”
He declined to comment on the selection Friday.
Zoner has stated her support for protecting undocumented students, saying in 2017 that Cornell Police would not honor civil immigration detainer requests without a subpoena or warrant and would not seek immigration status from anyone unless necessary to an investigation.
Honan said Friday that he had helped Zoner write the department’s policy on minimizing interaction with immigration authorities and would uphold her commitment.
“We’ll continue those practices,” he said.
Honan said he wants students to know that the officers stationed in Barton Hall are members of “a full-service police department that can meet all of their needs.”
“I want them to know that we are here to serve the community, that we are here to connect people with the resources they need and we care about them feeling safe on campus,” he said.
Honan said the department is hiring four new patrol officers who will begin at the police academy in April 1, bringing the total number of sworn officers to 50.
The deputy chief spends much of his off-the-clock time with his four children, traveling, attending concerts and staying fit (he does crossfit every morning).
Zoner was probably best known around campus for her Blue Light newsletter, a popular weekly email with links to comics, memes and GIFs that she said would continue after she leaves.
Asked about the newsletter, Honan laughed, and was reminded of one area in which he could not match his predecessor.
“Her meme game is just top notch,” he said of Zoner.