After 14 years of service, UTD Police Chief Larry Zacharias officially retired on Jan. 31.
As the founding sponsor of UTD’s student Emergency Medical Response Unit program, a recipient of Richardson Citizen of the Year in 2008 and UT System Chief of the Year both in 2011 and 2019, Zacharias has been a commanding symbol of community both on and off campus. He devoted his years to growing UTD PD’s staff from only a few officers to over 70 to better serve the area, improving student-law enforcement relations and making UTD a nearly crimeless campus.
The Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center was filled with over a hundred guests consisting of friends, family and affiliates to honor Zacharias’ departure from UTD on Jan. 26. The ceremony, led by Assistant Chief Brent Tourangeau, welcomed notable guests like the Richardson Mayor, the Richardson City Council, Arlington and Richardson PD officers and UT Systems Admin to listen to four speakers highlighting Zacharias’ career.
“Of course, as a friend, I wish him all the best in retirement, but I’m really going to miss him,” President Richard Benson said. “I think a phrase that you’re hearing is big shoes to fill. He’s the epitome of a leader. I would hope and expect anyone would follow his example.”
At the ceremony, Dean of Students Amanada Smith talked about how inspiring Zacharias was for staff and incoming students at freshmen orientations, as he has made the campus safer and more united. Vice President and Chief of Staff Rafael Martín recounted how Zacharias embraced university spirit as a UTD sports superfan and integrated values such as development and education into the police department. UT System Director of Police Michael Heidingsfield, came from UT Austin to speak on behalf of American law enforcement, bestowing the UT Systems Police Shield and the UT Systems Distinguished Command Award as compensation for his years of excellent service. Benson, retold familiar stories of Zacharias and how he will be deeply missed. Zacharias spent many years trying to improve connections between UTD PD and the student body.
“I’m a strong believer in developing partnerships, and that was the problem with the police department and the police administration before me. It was an us versus them environment,” Zacharias said. “It was a matter of working with [students,] showing them that we’re not their enemy or here to harm. We’re here to help them and keep them safe — and it didn’t happen overnight.”
Students attending UTD before the pandemic might remember the grill parties the police chief provided for athletes after winning games, the police escorts after championship games and how Zacharias often reversed or reevaluated policies to be more student friendly. He became well known for his iconic golf cart patrols across campus where he would greet passersby with a smile.
Zacharias has been serving the public since 1977. A graduate of Sam Houston State University and the FBI National Academy, Zacharias started his 45 years of service by enrolling in the Richardson Police Department as a patrol officer. He was appointed chief of Richardson police in 2002 and later retired from the position in January 2008. In previous years, Zacharias was legislative director for the Texas Police Chiefs Association and a board member for both the Institute for Law Enforcement Administration and the North Texas Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory. After his retirement in 2008, Zacharias was working to become the police chief for DART, but after hearing about an opening at UTD, he was convinced by his wife to reconsider.
“I think there was something telling me this place needs me,” Zacharias said. “I was pretty naive when I started here. I knew how to run a police department and I knew how to manage people, but I didn’t know anything about campus.”
Zacharias experienced a learning curve, trying to figure out how to transition from managing police departments and reporting to the city council to working with college students on a daily basis. However, he caught on quickly and began improving UTD PD policies.
Those attending UTD post-pandemic may not be fully aware of Zacharias’ welcoming kindness and devotion to partnership with students.
Starting with a small department fresh from a scandal, Zacharias had to bring staff up to its current numbers all while reversing harsh anti-student policies and restoring a sense of community trust. Zacharias worked very closely with Student Affairs and the Dean of Students offices to improve this relationship and hopes that even in his absence, connections will continue to flourish between police and students.
“We want you to reach out to us,” Zacharias said. “That students, faculty and staff are part of the police department and we’re part of the university community, so we have to work together to keep the campus safe. We have to trust each other. We have to rely on each other.”
Zacharias had intended to retire in 2020, but with the impact of COVID-19, he instead decided to revitalize the department once students began returning to campus. Two years later, Zacharias is already planning his trips and retirement plans after working nonstop for the last 45 years. Despite his vacation plans, Zacharias will not stop supporting students and the campus he changed forever. He plans to return either for spirit lunches or to patronize UTD athletics.
“I will miss this campus,” Zacharias said. “I will miss the people on this campus, I will miss the people that I work with on a regular basis and I will miss my employees. And because of that, I’m not gonna be gone forever.”