IUN success story: Derrick Cannon • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

IUN success story: Derrick Cannon

Gary police chief credits university with career mobility

Derrick Cannon
City of Gary Police Chief Derrick Cannon stands in front of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs office. (Provided by IUN)

Derrick Cannon didn’t have to go far to achieve what he wanted in life.

Born in Gary, Cannon used to ride his bike down Broadway and graduated from William A. Wirt High School. Education wasn’t his focus after high school, neither was spending 25 years in the city of Gary Police Department after joining as a volunteer.

But things don’t always go as planned. Years into his career, Cannon found Indiana University Northwest, an institution in the same city where he would help implement community-based policing.

“I feel like I’m very well rooted in this community,” Cannon said. “I want to be a police officer on my block where someone says, ‘Oh, I know him.’ We should be able to have those things in our community.”

Cannon’s path to becoming the city of Gary’s chief of police in January by Mayor Eddie Melton wasn’t linear, though. Neither was his educational journey.

Luckily, there isn’t such a thing as an atypical educational journey at Indiana University Northwest. It’s a place where thousands have found an affordable, flexible place to grow in their careers while continuing to work.

Back to school

Cannon didn’t grow up dreaming about becoming police officer.

“We had a certain respect level for law enforcement,” Cannon said. “As I got older, the dynamics of how America was moving and how law enforcement was being viewed in the media, I wasn’t necessarily such a fan of law enforcement myself.”

One day, working as a security officer, Cannon met someone who was an auxiliary — or volunteer — police officer for the city of Gary. The program intrigued Cannon, so he applied, was accepted and started training.

He put all his efforts into law enforcement. He was hired as a patrolman three years after starting as a volunteer and quickly moved up in rank. He tried to get his degree along the way, but it never worked out.

It wasn’t until 2012, when Cannon was a sergeant attending Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety program, that he rethought his education.

“I didn’t necessarily start my education program and then get a job,” Cannon said. “I had a job, and I wanted to accent my job by starting my educational pursuits.”

Whether starting out of high school or coming back, IU Northwest has a diverse population of students with different goals.

Cannon transferred credits from Northwestern to IU Northwest, began his degree in 2014 and graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in public affairs and a concentration in management.

The next year, he was admitted to the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, where he lived for three months and took classes in psychological leadership, organizational change, law enforcement studies and more. He traveled to Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia and saw how larger agencies handled different situations.

It was a rewarding experience, eventually leading to commissions with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) while remaining an officer in Gary. It also allowed him to transfer credits to IU Northwest, and he received his Master of Public Affairs with a concentration in criminal justice in 2021.

Furthering his education allowed Cannon to move up in the police department to lieutenant, captain and eventually chief.

Career advancement

Sometimes Cannon felt he’d hit a plateau in his career. As someone who wants to make the most of every situation, that didn’t sit well with him.

“With those plateaus, I thought, ‘Where can I go from here?’” Cannon said.

Earlier in his career, Cannon went to IU Northwest. When he became serious about advancing in law enforcement, going back was an obvious choice. Its location and footprint in the community were unbeatable, and the curriculum was attractive for someone in criminal justice.

So, Cannon went back, taking classes in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs — sometimes in his police uniform when he didn’t have time to change after work. It wasn’t easy balancing his professional, personal and educational pursuits, but he said the faculty was understanding, helping him succeed even when he had to take a full course load his final semester.

Cannon also said the classes made him a better police officer.

One class, taught by SPEA Associate Professor Monica Solinas-Saunders, was made up of IU students and incarcerated individuals in the work-release program in Lake County.

They gathered, talking about contemporary issues in society, the judicial system and more. Cannon saw and heard how his peers and those incarcerated felt about law enforcement. He didn’t reveal he was a police officer until the end of the semester, giving him a truly authentic perspective.

“Being a member in the large criminal justice system, the class gave me a very personal look at how some of these things are affected down the line and how I can help,” Cannon said. “The class was very impactful. I still keep up with all my classmates.”

Community change

Today, walking around IU Northwest’s campus in his police uniform, Cannon can’t help but smile.

He didn’t want to be a police officer, but he wanted to make a difference in his hometown. IU Northwest helped put him in a position to do so.

“How can you change any situation unless you’re ingrained in it, and you have a choice in the matter?” Cannon said.

In his new role, Cannon is focused on recruitment and retention, implementing changes in training, communicating with the public and serving them.

He knows there’s work to do as he begins his new role. But as a Gary resident, improving the quality of life in the community is personal. Thanks to some of the eye-opening experiences he had pursuing higher education, he’s ready to make changes.

“I’m happy to be an IUN alumnus,” he said. “I knew that I had to be well-rounded in certain areas to be able to serve my community at the level that I wanted to serve it on. IUN fit right into that scope.”

This story originally was published by IUN here.


  • Robby General

    Indiana University Northwest

    Robby General is the digital communications specialist at Indiana University Northwest. Previously, he was an award-winning sports journalist for the USA Today Network, where he worked in Indianapolis and East Central Indiana for nearly five years. He received his bachelor’s in journalism/telecommunications from Ball State University and master’s in sports journalism from IUPUI. A Chicago native, Robby is a proud Northwest Indiana transplant.

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