After Lehigh Police Chief Edward Shupp announced his retirement in September, a search committee formed to replace him. In December, former Bethlehem Police Chief Jason Schiffer was announced as Shupp’s successor.
Schiffer officially took over as LUPD chief on Jan. 3. He previously worked as a lawyer at Cohen, Feeley, Altemose & Rambo in Bethlehem.
Ricardo Hall, the vice provost for student affairs, said the committee was looking for someone who had experience on a college campus or in communities surrounding college campuses. He said they were looking for someone who would understand that issues on a college campus aren’t necessarily the same as in other communities.
“We were looking for someone, they didn’t have to necessarily need to work in this environment, but at least needed to be able to demonstrate to the community and to the other folks that interviewed the candidates, that they understood this environment and would be able to flourish here,” Hall said.
Although Schiffer has a rich history in law enforcement, he didn’t begin there. His first job was in the engineering and computer networking department at B.Braun Medical, a disposable medical device manufacturing company.
“I felt, I don’t know if it was a calling or a sense that I wanted to do something more impactful than just working in the business I was working in,” Schiffer said.
After some searching, Schiffer saw law enforcement as something that could give him a sense of fulfillment.
Schiffer started working for the Bethlehem Police Department in 1994 and served as a neighborhood police officer in South Bethlehem. While at BPD, he became a lawyer, attending Temple University Beasley School of Law between 2004 and 2008. In 2011, he was promoted to police chief, and then in 2013, he retired from the police force.
“I guess the decision to retire from Bethlehem at that time was something that had been in the works for many years,” Schiffer said. “We had a 20-year retirement so I knew early on in my police career that I could retire at that time and given my age, my plan was to do something as my second career after the Bethlehem (police) career.”
Schiffer said when deciding on his second career he wanted to do something that would build upon his knowledge and experience at Bethlehem Police.
“I never really knew what that would be,” Schiffer said. He decided that a law degree would lead to more possibilities.
Schiffer said his experience as a lawyer will translate to working as the chief of a university police force because of his knowledge of the law.
“In an increasingly litigious society, I think there is a lot to gain by my knowledge and experience,” Schiffer said. “There’s a lot of similarities between civil law and criminal law — putting together a case, meeting with a client, gathering the evidence and putting on a case. I believe the best practitioners of law are the ones who can fully see both sides and appreciate both sides of any argument or case.”
Schiffer said his decision to go back into law enforcement was Lehigh-specific. During his four years of retirement, a number of police chief jobs came up and Schiffer said he didn’t apply to any of them.
“This was a job that really made me consider that I was missing a part of law enforcement that maybe I didn’t even realize I was missing,” Schiffer said. “When I heard that Chief Shupp was retiring, I went home and talked about it with my wife and both of us thought this was a really interesting opportunity and something that I have a lot of passion about, and it seemed like it would be very fulfilling.”
Student leaders in the Lehigh community are excited to form a collaborative relationship with the new police chief.
Ian Davis, ’18, the Interfraternity Council president, said Schiffer has been clear about wanting to develop an open dialogue with students. Davis said this is an opportunity to create a mutually beneficial relationship while keeping students safe.
“(Schiffer is) someone that’s going to have a large impact on the community in one way or another, and so we’re really excited to work with him,” Davis said. “With the Greek community having a strong presence on campus, it’s important to include someone so influential in conversations as we continue to create the safest possible environment for Lehigh students.”
Matt Rothberg, ’18, the president of Student Senate, said he was personally excited about Schiffer’s understanding of the importance of individual rights, as well as due process and community relationships.
Rothberg, who served on the search committee, said student leaders are already developing a productive relationship with Schiffer.
“I think it’s important for the students to understand the police are there to help us, not to hurt us,” Rothberg said. “I think having this new figure at the top of the police force poses as a great opportunity for students to now take an initiative on their part to get to know this new chief and provide feedback on how to further the relationship and point it in a new direction, rather than the direction we were heading in over the past few semesters.”
Hall said Schiffer’s enthusiasm and interest in interacting with the community is something that impressed him.
“I could envision him interacting with students on campus, riding around on his bike,” Hall said. “He seems to just enjoy being out and about.”