Heading the Campus Police at MIT started out as a way for John DiFava to stay in law enforcement after retiring nine years ago as superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police. For someone who had dealt with fall-out from forced busing in Boston, prison riots, union strikes, and the rebuilding of security at Logan Airport after 9/11, MIT was a totally different world.
“It was like coming here from the military,” says John, whose responsibilities have since expanded to include directing Facilities Operations and Security. Accustomed to making quick decisions, he had to adapt to the slower consensus-building process on which decisions are based in higher education. He credits MIT’s Leader to Leader program for helping him “get it.”
“Challenges of policing at MIT are different, too,” he points out. “There are more shades of gray. With students we want to correct behavior in a positive way, not negatively impact their future with a record that follows them.”
At home, John likes spending time with his two children, ages 11 and 12, and his menagerie of pets. “I’m an incredible animal lover,” he says. He has a huge dog, ferrets, birds, aquatic animals, a bearded dragon, and ducks. He also has a passion for scuba diving, which takes him all over the world. But, no, he never watches cop shows on television.
Overseeing Facilities Operations has turned out to be particularly gratifying for him. “It’s tough to see tangible results of policing in a short time,” he says. “But with Facilities, you see results soon. The floors sparkle now, there are fewer complaints about climate control, and there are beautiful new plantings on Vassar Street.” And John adds, “I’m only as good as my staff, and they’re terrific.”