ETSU's first female police chief comes from New York University police department, but is a true Tennessean

Becky Campbell • Updated Jun 21, 2018 at 9:05 AM

When East Tennessee State University’s incoming police chief walked into the lobby at Burgin Dossett Hall Wednesday afternoon, her blue-and-gold attire made a statement — she’s already an ETSU Buccaneer.

Nicole Collins will become the university’s chief of police and director of public safety. She is the first woman —  and the first African-American — to hold the post.

Collins came from New York University, where she was the assistant vice president in the university’s Department of Safety, to become the highest-ranking female law enforcement officer in Northeast Tennessee. Other high-ranking female officers include Washington County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen and Johnson City Police Major Debbie Botelho.

Collins will replace Chief Jack Cotrel, who retires June 30 after 40 years with the ETSU department. He spent the past 17 years as the department’s chief.

Collins may be coming from the north, but she’s a Tennessean through and through. She grew up in Knoxville and started her law enforcement career at the University of Tennessee after serving four years in the Navy. She also served three years with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves.

“Our search for a new chief of police yielded a large number of qualified applicants from across the state and nation ... from Alaska to New York,” said Jeremy Ross, ETSU chief operating officer. Collins, with 30 years of law enforcement experience, rose to the top of that list and made the final cut for the job.

“The interest we received reflects the positive image held by ETSU and particularly our public safety team,” Ross said. “Chief Collins possesses a strong work ethic, expertise and experience, and it is our honor to welcome her to ETSU and to this region.”

For Collins, the move from New York means she’s “coming home,” and she’s no stranger to area law enforcement leaders.

She and Cotrel have known each other from a distance for many years, and she had interactions with the Johnson City Police Department during her time in Knoxville, she said. While there, from 2006 to 2013, Collins served as the Rape Aggression Defense coordinator and implemented the class as a credit program for students.

She also managed large-scale events on campus, including mass evacuation procedures for athletic events, and assisted the university by creating policies and procedures that led to the department being the first campus department to receive national and international accreditation.

At New York University, Collins was second in command of all field operations and managed 350 officers at the Manhattan and Brooklyn campuses.

“I’m truly honored,” Collins said when introduced to the crowd. “I was so hopeful when I applied and I was just dreaming ... just please let them call me for an interview.  That would make my day,” Collins said. Then to make it to the finalist list, and ultimately offered the job, Collins said she was honored.

“I’ve known about Dr. Noland for years. He didn’t know about me, but I knew about him,” she said. “The opportunity to work for this (university) president .. that really excites me. My goal is to build upon the solid foundation that Chief Cotrel and Deputy Chief (Terry) Story have built with this department.”

Collins said she looks forward to working with the area police departments and sheriff’s offices where ETSU has a presence.

“I am people-centered. I love collaboration,” she said, and plans to use that tool to make the department stronger.

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