Now, more than 37 years, later, he’s preparing to retire after 33 years – the last 28-plus as chief of what is now the University Police Department.
“I’ve been around like an old pair of shoes,” he says with his characteristic chuckle, before turning serious.
“I’ve spent better than half my life at WVU and I wouldn’t do anything differently so far as picking a place to work,” he said. “This is the greatest bunch of people, and the greatest spirit of any place I’ve been part of.”
The feeling is mutual.
“Bob Roberts is the epitome of what a campus police chief should be,” President Gordon Gee said. “He understands the community he serves, and never loses sight of the responsibility he has to help keep our students safe so that they can succeed. We will miss him, but part of his wisdom is making sure there are people in place who can continue on the same path he has established over his long career.”
Major William “W.P.” Chedester, a 16-year veteran of the department, has been named to succeed Roberts as chief, effective June 1.
“Chief Roberts has been an inspiration and a pleasure to work for my entire career,” Chedester said. “He is not just the chief of police; he is a mentor and a friend to all members of the university community. I am honored and humbled to follow him as UPD's chief. He leaves a foundation of excellence and professionalism that can never be matched and I will do my very best to lead the department down the path that he has worked so hard to create.”
When Roberts joined the department on March 15, 1985, it was officially known as the Department of Public Safety, but popularly called “security.” It had little equipment, officers received no specialized training and to say it was technologically lacking is an understatement – one computer with a 2-inch screen that took 17 floppy discs to run.
Since he was named the first official chief of police on Jan. 1, 1990, he has overseen the creation of a full-fledged, professional department, whose officers receive training from the State Police Academy, are as equipped as any small city department and operate out of their own building instead of a house on the Evansdale campus. The department has gone from 26 sworn and two non-sworn officers to 57 sworn officers, from two dispatchers to 20 communication officers and added 20 student cadets.
Roberts was recognized this year as Chief of the Year by the National Association of Campus Safety Administrators.
The Association said he “is a proven leader with the ability to use logic and reason to solve today’s problems facing police in higher educational settings. He has displayed a propensity to be fair and balanced when directing his staff to achieve the goals set for successful police service.”
The association also praised his “dedication to the community, exemplary performance as a police chief and service to public safety in higher education.”
There are lots of memories through the years, but those include many sad moments.
“The thing that stays with you from this job is the visions of the young people lost,” he said. “I can still recall the people I’ve seen unfortunately pass away.”
But those are outnumbered by the memories of the people – “I’ve met a lot of good, young students,” he says as an example.
Also, people like Harry Snoreck, an ROTC colonel and later WVU assistant vice president, who helped guide him as a young Air Force NCO to get his bachelors and later master’s degrees – both from WVU, and Bill Strader, who encouraged him to stay at WVU when there was an early opportunity to go elsewhere.
“Forever, I’ll be grateful,” he said. “I saw that generation retire and leave and now I've got this new group that looks like my kids running around here, in some cases my grandkids.”
During his tenure, Roberts has served with three football and basketball coaches, four athletic directors, five deans of students and eight presidents, including two with Gee.
“It’s truly been an honor to work with Chief Roberts during my 27 years at WVU,” said Corey Farris, WVU dean of students. “It’s clear to me that our students’ safety was a top priority for him, and he truly understood their needs. I look forward to continuing the collaborative relationship between Student Life, students and UPD as W.P. Chedester steps into the role of Chief.”
There have also been seven chiefs of the Morgantown Police Department and eight sheriffs.
“Chief Roberts has been a great asset to the campus community as well as this whole county,” said Monongalia County Sheriff Perry Palmer. “We have always had a strong working relationship with WVU Police and a big reason has been Chief Roberts leading the way for his department. We will continue to work with WVU Police as we have in the past. We will miss him and wish him the very best in his retirement.”
As for what’s next, Roberts says, “I’ve been working since I was about 16, so I’m not really sure what I’ll do.
“I don't have any real plans, other than that my wife and I will both be retiring from the 2 and 3 a.m. calls to a quieter life together,” he said.
And just in case you’ve wondered, yes, his name is Robert Roberts, but he said only because the state of Virginia changed the “Bobby” his mother had put down on his birth certificate to “Robert.”
“I didn’t know I was Robert Roberts until I joined the Air Force.”
CONTACT: John A.
Bolt; WVU University Relations/Communications
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