Public Safety leaders retire after serving with smiles
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Garrett Ohrenberg
GCU News Bureau
They’re just regular guys with an uncommon devotion to customer service. As they drive around the Grand Canyon University campus several times a week, Joe Yahner and Chuck Miiller pay attention to the details but pay little attention to their status. They’re just Joe and Chuck.
Much to the chagrin of the students, faculty and staff they’ve come to know so well in their three-plus years at GCU, those campus tours will end Friday when Yahner, GCU’s Director of Public Safety since June 2017, and Miiller, its Public Safety Assistant Director and Assistant Police Chief since December of that year, retire together.
They’re leaving the new director, Mike Caputo, with a campus where Public Safety is a bright spot thanks to a long list of initiatives and protocols created while they were on duty.
They didn’t do it with a lot of fanfare.
They didn’t say, “Hey, look at us.”
They just focused on teamwork and customer service in a way that won’t soon be forgotten.
Joe and Chuck.
“That’s what Public Safety is here to do is to provide service to the GCU community,” said Yahner, the former Phoenix police chief. “We’re part of the team. We’re not Public Safety and you’re GCU. We are GCU Public Safety. We’re a spoke in this big wheel.”
Miiller (yes, his name has two i’s in it – he suspects that they evolved from an umlaut that dropped out somewhere on the family tree) put it this way: “It’s really not a law enforcement focus that we have here. It’s customer service.”
That customer service is evident in various ways, starting with the attitude of their 228-person staff. Yahner, who saw to it that all personnel wear a nametag, makes it clear: Their attitude must be his attitude.
“We’re the only entity that wears a uniform. You stand out here. You represent me. You represent us,” he said. “When you’re having a bad day, I don’t want you to come to work because I don’t want you to have a bad day on campus. Have a good day because you’re speaking for me to everyone coming through those booths.”
Joe and Chuck liked to see for themselves that everyone who represents them was having a good day.
They have driven their golf cart around campus two or three days a week, just to see what’s going on.
They have watched students file into Chapel to make sure the flow is OK.
They have gone to basketball games during pre-COVID times, just to take in the atmosphere and make sure everything is under control.
They have stood on Camelback Road during big events to make sure the traffic is moving.
And they have never missed Move-In or Move-Out. Those events are important to the campus community, so they’ve been important to Joe and Chuck, too.
But it’s not as if they needed to be pressured to take those trips. They just love the campus vibe.
“That’s why we enjoy driving around,” Miiller said. “That’s why we’re out at Move-In and Move-Out. That’s why we’re out at basketball games. It’s a good time!”
Their attention to detail has been just as thorough.
One of them personally responds every time a parent calls (602-639-8100) or emails ([email protected]) the Public Safety office. “Parents, they want to make sure their kids are safe, so who are they going to call?” Yahner said.
They have done hundreds of presentations for parents or for campus personnel, such as Resident Directors and Resident Assistants, and have been regular attendees at community meetings.
“Joe and Chuck have been tremendous and valuable partners in helping us serve our students well,” said Matt Hopkins, Director of Residence Life. “Their emphasis on a consistent response to the varied situations on campus has enabled us to become better as a university. Their humor, humility and hard work will be missed.”
They have been active proponents of the Neighborhood Safety Initiative, part of GCU President Brian Mueller’s Five-Point Plan. The partnership with the Phoenix Police Department has been adding extra patrols and specialized enforcement to the streets near campus since 2012.
They have the local Phoenix Police precinct’s resource lieutenant on speed dial.
They have made the career ladder within the department more scalable. There were six supervisors when Yahner arrived; now there are 15.
They have built a relationship with Phoenix Fire to make sure firefighters know the best routes onto campus.
They have sought extra accreditations from outside agencies.
They have made sure that every officer or guard gets two weeks of training before setting foot on campus.
They have split campus supervision into three zones – two separated by Little Canyon Trail plus the 27th Avenue complex – to make sure it is managed properly.
Maybe most importantly, they have been visible and available. Yahner says he has set foot in every building on campus.
And maybe most interestingly, they have initiated customer service tests every couple of months for everyone in the field, from the first-year officers and guards to the veterans.
The questions are simple but are designed to make sure everyone on staff knows the answers:
What are the Library hours during finals?
Where’s the STEM Building?
Where’s the commuter garage?
Where’s the new Antelope Reception Center?
Who can go to the Canyon Activity Center during the pandemic?
“It makes the guards think,” Yahner said.
And it’s not just for fun. Everyone who takes the exam has to put their name on it, and their answers are checked for accuracy.
There also can be impromptu tests when their employees least expect it.
“We’ll hop in the cart with guards and say, “Take us to Building 1,’” Miiller said.
No wonder Caputo said, “The foundation here is solid. It’s fantastic to be jumping into a situation where the foundation has been built.”
Caputo, a 27-year law enforcement veteran who has worked for the FBI for the last 22 years, has gotten to know the campus well the last few years. His daughter, Kaitlynn, is a GCU graduate; his son, Koby, is a sophomore majoring in cybersecurity; and his wife, Julie, was on Mueller’s parent advisory board for four years.
“I love the environment. I love the Christian atmosphere here. Faith is important to me and my family,” he said. “I came from what I called the best job in the entire world (second in command for the FBI’s Arizona office). I said the only way I would ever leave the FBI is that if another job came up where I truly believed in the mission, and this job is exactly that.”
Part of his mission will be to continue the rapport Yahner and Miiller have built around a place that many people consider like Disneyland. It’s the Happiest Campus on Earth.
Mueller appreciates what they’ve done to add to that vibe.
“God puts certain people in your path for a reason,” Mueller said. “When Joe and Chuck came to GCU, our enrollment numbers had really taken off and we had just created our own police force on campus. Their experience and expertise in not only developing that police force but also the culture within it was instrumental for us. Their contributions were a blessing, and we are very fortunate to have had their leadership at a very important time.
“I think Mike Caputo is another of those people. His background in the FBI is impressive, but he also has two children who attended or are attending GCU, so he completely understands the culture here and what we stand for.”
And, like Yahner and Miiller, he will have a lot of support. Yahner contemplated the end of his 38 years in law enforcement thusly:
“The time here has been fantastic. It has been a really good job. The administration and the executive team have treated me really well. Brian Mueller and (Chief Administrative Officer) Brian Roberts have been huge in supporting Public Safety.”
Miiller, meanwhile, leaves behind a 28-year career in law enforcement and a down-to-earth style that makes for easy banter. He smiles when he lists the “excellent decisions” Yahner has made during his tenure and then says, “One was hiring me.” He talks with delight about commandeering the golf cart through the maze of Move-In volunteers as students cheered for their Public Safety leaders.
“We’ve never looked for attention, and that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been able to bridge those gaps,” he said. “We’re here to serve.”
They did it with a style that serves them well, too. Regular guys. Joe and Chuck.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].