John Kolinek

By Kevin Tankersley

A conversation with Baylor’s new police chief

John Kolinek was sworn in as chief of the Baylor University Police Department on June 1. He took over the department from Brad Wigtil, who held the post for six years. Wigtil replaced longtime Baylor police chief Jim Doak, who had the job for 28 years.

Kolinek is a Waco native, having graduated from Parkview Christian Academy in 1985. After completing his criminal justice degree from Sam Houston State University, he returned to Waco and joined the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked in several roles, including as a hostage negotiator. At Baylor, he’ll oversee a department of more than 60 employees, including 37 officers.

WACOAN: How did you get into law enforcement?

Kolinek: I was born and raised in Waco and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. When I got out of high school, I had this grand plan to take a year off, because I really had no clue.

I came up with this plan and talked to my mom and dad about it. Mom’s just nodding, and I’m thinking, ‘Man, they’re going for it. This is gonna be so good.’ I got finished and my mom said, ‘Hey, that’s great. You’ve got two choices: go to college and move out.’ I didn’t realize how good I had it.

I went to college, not knowing what I wanted to do, and started out taking just basics and explored a criminal justice class or two. [I] found it pretty interesting.

When I was a kid growing up, there was a narcotics agent that lived next door to us. He worked for Texas Department of Public Safety. He and my dad were very tight and good friends. I often wonder sometimes if that is one of the reasons why I got into law enforcement. I don’t even really know. I’ve just found the whole process of law enforcement to be so intriguing with all the different things that you can be a part of and all the different things that you can do within law enforcement.

I finished my degree at Sam Houston State University, which is in Huntsville, which when I was going to school was one of the top criminal justice programs in the country. Then I always knew I wanted to work in the community where I was raised. I came back home.

My wife graduated from Baylor, and so she was teaching school and her family was here and my family was here and family was important to both of us. We talked a couple of times about it. ‘Hey, do we want to go and do something else and live somewhere else?’ But then have kids. I had such good relationships with my grandparents, and I wanted my kids to have the same. So we stayed here and have been here ever since.

WACOAN: You were with the sheriff’s office for a long time. What prompted the move to Baylor?

Kolinek: You know, I wasn’t looking to leave the sheriff’s office. I was obviously working for Sheriff [Parnell] McNamara at the time, and he was really good to me when he initially came into office. He decided to let me stay from a command standpoint, allowed me to keep the same position that I was in at that time. I had oversight for all jail administrative matters.

Then throughout my time there working for Sheriff McNamara, he allowed me to expand my horizons within the department and put me in charge of the entire sheriff’s office budget. I had responsibilities of all courthouse security, became what I call the mouthpiece for Sheriff McNamara with the [McLennan County] Commissioners Court, in dealing with the county judges office and each of the commissioners. And then he wanted to make sure we had a good working relationship with all the criminal court, so he gave me all those responsibilities.

Then when [the shootout at] Twin Peaks came along, I started doing public information for him as we were getting requests for interviews from some of the folks that were calling from all over the world. We did a lot of those interviews by phone.

I had met [Baylor University Department of Public Safety] Associate Vice President Mark Childers through the Secret Service because he was the Resident Agent in Charge here in Waco. Just through conversations it looked like there was going to be an opportunity for a position over here at Baylor. And I knew that I was close to where I could retire at the sheriff’s office. He wanted to know if I was interested in coming over to Baylor University and so through conversations there, I made a decision to come over to Baylor. I’ve been here for almost six years now.

Parnell was great to me. He allowed me to expand my horizons from a supervisory standpoint and allowed me to take on those issues with the budget, and being the mouthpiece for the sheriff’s office in commissioners court every Tuesday and establish relationships with those folks to make sure that we were doing everything we needed to do from a budgetary standpoint. He was really good to me.

WACOAN: You were also a hostage negotiator at the sheriff’s office. How did you get into that?

Kolinek: Well, that was interesting. The hostage negotiation thing was really just an opportunity to do something else other than what I was doing at the sheriff’s office. So I went to the training, and then came back and then was a part of the hostage negotiation unit after that.

WACOAN: What were some memorable experiences from that part of your career?

Kolinek: I think that the experiences about working in a hostage negotiation unit is the teamwork, the collaboration. Because from my perspective, it’s not just about who’s doing the negotiation, there’s a bunch of other stuff going on behind the scene.

You’ve got a second that’s right next to you feeding you information as you’re talking to the person that you’re negotiating with. And then you’ve got people that are not necessarily in the room where you’re doing the negotiating but are gathering pertinent information related to the incident or the person that you’re negotiating with and supplying that information to you should the need be to use it in any way, shape or form to help obviously solve the situation.

Of course, you know the best part about being a hostage negotiator is when a situation is resolved where nobody is hurt, injured or killed and the person is taken into custody, whether it’s for a criminal justice issue, or if it’s a mental health matter, getting them the help that they need, without anybody being hurt, injured or killed, that’s the best part about that job.

WACOAN: What do you like about working at Baylor?

Kolinek: Oh, it’s been great. I came over in 2015. First of all, the opportunity to work at such a great academic institution like Baylor, one that’s very well-respected throughout the country, was a draw, number one. Number two, the men and women that work here at the police department. I had an opportunity to work alongside the personnel here when I was at the sheriff’s office, because we provided quite a bit of security for special events on campus, and in some instances off campus. And so that was a great opportunity.

Working at Baylor, what makes us unique, is that the police department works under the umbrella of the Baylor University Department of Public Safety. And underneath that umbrella, you have emergency management, which includes fire safety. You have global security, technical security, and parking services. So that whole division, the BUDPS, is headed up by Mark Childers. He leads a great team. Just having the opportunity to be a part of that has been very rewarding.

WACOAN: What’s the biggest difference between law enforcement with the sheriff’s office and law enforcement on a college campus?

Kolinek: I don’t think it’s as big a difference as people would expect it to be. I look at Baylor as sort of a city within a city. We have people that live here. We have people that come to work here. We have the same sort of calls for service. Our police personnel here go through the same training that all other police department personnel go through. We investigate the same type of cases. And so there’s really not that much difference.

I think one of the things that stands out that would be the difference is just the community in which we serve. Most of our community is our college-aged students, between the ages of 18 and 22 or 18 and 23. And so that’s really, from my perspective, the only difference. Of course, we have faculty and staff that are here during normal business hours. But generally after those times, we’re a college campus full of college kids.

WACOAN: Do you plan any changes to the department?

Kolinek: I would say so. We just hired a new assistant chief from Northern Illinois University. His name is Don Rodman. He’s only been here for six weeks now. We’re getting him adjusted to what his duties will look like here at Baylor.

A couple of things that I want to focus on are community policing and crime prevention. I think that both of those are worthy programs because, ultimately, we want to do our best to keep the campus community safe and all of our faculty, staff and students. So that’s the two things that we’re focusing on right now is crime prevention and community policing.

WACOAN: What’s the biggest challenge you face at football games, with so many people in one space?

Kolinek: That’s how I got involved with Baylor earlier. I was the sheriff’s office representative for football games, so I spent a lot of time on the top of [Floyd Casey Stadium]. I had staff that were down there at different duties in different assignments, but I was up on the top.

I think the challenging part of it is, you know, we want to make sure that we’re providing a safe and secure environment for all the fans that are coming to the game. We have a very robust, I would say, safety and security plan for the stadium. And we use our law enforcement partners of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, the Waco Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety to help us provide that from a manpower standpoint.

The challenge is when you have a facility like McLane Stadium and a great football program like Baylor has, we just want to make sure that we’re providing the best safe and secure environment that we can. And we certainly can’t do any of that by ourselves. We are dependent on our law enforcement partners and the support that the university gives us to make sure that we are accomplishing those needs.

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