Chief Kristen Roman has long understood the value of teamwork. Roman, originally from Illinois, was a standout athlete on the UW–Madison volleyball team, recording over 1,161 kills and 1,107 digs. She graduated from the university in 1988 with degrees in both English literature and women’s studies. Now Roman serves as the university’s Chief of Campus Police, and the fieldhouse where she spent four years playing volleyball is visible from her office window.
She started playing volleyball after not making her middle school’s eighth grade pom-pom squad. Roman said she was playing volleyball in gym class a few days later when the gym teacher approached her about trying out for volleyball: “I thought, well, I guess since I’m not on pom-poms, I’ll give it a try.”
Giving volleyball a try took her all the way to the United States Junior Olympics volleyball team. In her senior year of high school, Roman traveled to Japan to play against its training Olympic team.
Roman began getting recruited to various universities her junior year of high school but says “I think I knew pretty early on that I wanted to go to a Big 10 School. Even though I was being recruited from schools across the country, I knew I wasn’t really wanting to go that far away.”
On her visit to UW–Madison, Roman said, “The coaches took me up to the top of Bascom Hill and the view was amazing. And I remember standing in Bascom Hall — where I actually ended up having one of my first English classes freshman year — and I remember just standing there thinking, ‘Yeah, this is what I imagined a college campus environment to look and feel like.’”
Roman, despite major and successful universities recruiting her across the country, said the Wisconsin team appealed to her because “it was the opportunity to not necessarily join an established winning team, but to help build one.”
After graduation, Roman thought she would be a high school English teacher and coach volleyball, but ultimately came back to the City of Madison to be a police officer. She found the team environment of volleyball translated well to a career in law enforcement.
“The police academy was just an incredible learning experience. I was back on a team, with my classmates,” she said. “The ways in which we came together to help each other be successful was an experience that built on my volleyball years. But now here we are, practitioners of this profession, and we’re going to need to be relying on each other in order to serve the community and help promote safety and help people.”
During her 26-year tenure with the City of Madison Police Department, Roman often found herself in positions where she was the first to build something, like being appointed the first captain to oversee the Community Outreach Section. In this position, Roman implemented a program that educated officers on how to properly respond to mental health-related incidents, as well as connecting those involved with the treatment necessary to keep them out of the criminal justice system.
Roman says she sees police as both community members and social workers. “Crime is a symptom. It’s a symptom of all sorts of other things that police have no control or influence around. And so, police are the ones that get thrown into the response because that’s what we’ve got, but we keep throwing police at a problem and don’t get at the source of the problem, which is often beyond police’s ability to fix.”
She said she is “privileged to have such a great group of people here that are focused on service,” describing the department as “a driven group of people, committed to hard work.” The campus police department sees itself as a group of educators, which Roman described as “unique for policing.”
Like being on a sports team, policing a team effort, she said, “one that requires collaboration and coordination and everyone being the best they can be.”