Q&A: Daniel Piazza; OCCC Police Chief

Q: Where were you born? Where did you grow up? 

A: I was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas and that’s where I grew up. 

Q: Where did you first become a police officer? 

A: The state of Texas. My wife, her parents had moved to Texas and we decided to move to Texas. Applied for a law enforcement agency, got hired, and that’s where I started my law enforcement career. 

Q: When did you start working for OCCC? 

A: I came here in May of 2013, and I became the chief of police in December of 2015.

Q: Who influenced you into becoming a police officer? 

A: When I went in, it was a very respected profession. At an early age, we’d have officers come to our school and I always admired the officers, the way they looked in uniform, the way they interacted with people, and I like to take up for people. I don’t like to see people victimized, I don’t like to see people that are bullied, and I like to give back to the community. I genuinely like having the interaction with the community and it just seemed like the perfect job for me. 

Q: I’ve heard it’s an officer’s duty to protect and serve, why is that such a passion for you? 

A: You get a lot out of it. There’s some days that you don’t feel like it. There’s some days where you go home with zero sense of accomplishment. But there’s other days where you really know that you’ve made an impact in somebody’s life. I think a lot of people view law enforcement strictly as “we’re out here to put people in jail,” and that’s really not it. We have a lot of tools at our disposal to try and assist individuals and arresting and always putting people into the criminal justice system, that’s not always the answer. Look at the alternatives you have first. 

Q: What are some other police jobs that you’ve had in the past? 

A: I’ve been on SWAT, I’ve been on sniper. When I came over here to the college, I was the major of operations at the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office. Basically I was over anything that was law enforcement related and/or supported law enforcement functions. 

I was over patrols, I was over investigations, I was over the sex offender registry and complience, I was over dispatch, I was over records, I was over school resource officers, I was over the officers that we had over at the Norman Vo-Tech Center, I was over the civil division, I was over the tax warrants division, I was over fleet maintenance, and I was over training, as well as community outreach. I did that for a number of years before I came over to the community college. 

Q: Why did you decide to become the OCCC police chief? 

A: When I came here in 2013, it was really a wonderful culture. It was pre-COVID, and before I applied, to be quite honest with you, I was really ignorant to how large Oklahoma City Community College actually was or is now. 

I remember walking into the main building just to look around and it was during class change and the main building around the coffee shop was just completely packed with students, but everybody was happy, everyone was talking, there was a good energy in the air and I thought, “this might be a good place to hire into,” and I hired into it and it was a very good culture. I can’t think of a negative contact that I’ve had with a student since I’ve been here, whether it’s walking them to class, they’re lost, unlocking a car, whatever. The students have treated me no less than excellent and the students have been wonderful, and I’d say that the faculty and staff are great. 

Q: What are your most common interactions that you have at OCCC? 

A: I think the most common interactions that we have with the OCCC community are positive. If somebody needs to be let into an office, or sometimes they run into some issues in their personal lives that spill onto campus, which can be stalking, domestic violence, or something like that occasionally that we’ll assist people in. Sometimes you have students or community members that are experienced in issues of mental health, and we’ll evaluate them and depending on the criteria, we’ll take them to a hospital or a mental health institution for evaluation and assistance. But overall, I would say for the most part with the campus community, it’s very benign: they’re locked out of their cars, their battery won’t start, they’re lost, they need help getting to their office or classroom, something like that. We deal with some things with the community at large that spills over on campus, but that’s not an everyday occurrence. 

Q: How often do you hire new officers? 

A: We hire new officers when there’s a vacancy, I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not but there’s been a lot of pressure applied on law enforcement, especially in the last two years. We’ve been portrayed negatively in the media. I’m not saying that we should not be scrutinized, but recruiting new candidates has been very difficult. We generally hire officers when we have vacancies, but sometimes I think we had about a seven or eight month period that we had vacancies and we only had maybe five or six people apply. 

Q: How much training is involved for being an OCCC police officer? 

A: A new officer will generally receive 150 hours of training. That includes firearms, that includes our policies and procedures, our use of force, our law enforcement’s drivers training, how we use our body worn cameras, our tasers, active shooter and things like that. Generally between 150-160 hours of what I would call “classroom,” as well as range and drivers training, and then they actually go into our field training program where they’re actually walking around with an officer. On average, it varies from three to six months depending on the officer’s experience level. 

Q: How do you prepare officers for possible intruders? 

A: We’re lucky. I think we’re very blessed that this community and OCCC students have been very supportive of the police department, especially when it comes to training and equipment. I have a full time training officer, he’s certified and ALERT, which is an active shooter program that’s nationwide, and LASER, which is an active shooter program that was rolled out through the Oklahoma Department of Homeland Security, and then we have our active shooter course, so our officers go through 3 active shooter courses a year. 

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do as OCCC police chief? What’s your least favorite thing to do as OCCC police chief?  

A: One of my most favorite things to do is to get out and walk the campus, interact with the campus community. I mean, I really enjoy that. 

My least favorite thing to do, I would probably say that…I’m the chief compliance officer, and I would probably say my least favorite thing is the paperwork process involved in compliance with the Clery Act.