As a police beat, Holyoke Community College is a long way from Father Panik Village, the public housing project in Bridgeport, Conn., where William "Ron" Bailey started his career as a uniformed patrol officer in 1983.
Bailey spent 30 years with the Bridgeport Police Department, the majority on the street in a city that raged with violence fueled by the crack epidemic of the 1980s and '90s. For 18 of those years, he worked undercover, battling drug dealers and gangs, surviving six shootouts. He capped his career in Bridgeport as a lieutenant in police administration.
Now Bailey has a new beat - the HCC campus, as director of Public Safety. He started Oct. 7, following Ralph "Buddy" Gould, who left HCC last spring to take a new position as head of public safety for Smith, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire colleges.
Bailey, who goes by "Ron," is looking forward to the challenge of running his own department.
"I wanted to be a chief of police," said Bailey. He started preparing for such a job by returning to school several years ago, earning his bachelor's degree in human services at Springfield College in 2012. He's now working on his master's in public administration at the University of New Haven.
"This," he said, "is a perfect fit."
Bill Fogarty, vice president of HCC Administration and Finance, agrees.
"Ron comes to us with a wealth of law enforcement experience, both on the street and in challenging management assignments, and he brings a strong community policing approach to the job," Fogarty said. "His academic credentials also directly relate to his work at the college."
As director of Public Safety, Bailey will lead a department of eight campus police officers and three sergeants, all sworn special state police officers. His top priority at HCC, he said, is to work with the administration and trustees to arm campus police and make sure it is done properly.
"We're confident the department will continue to move forward under his leadership," Fogarty said.
During his years as a police administrator, Bailey focused on professional standards and discrimination issues. He said what appeals to him most about HCC is the diversity of the campus.
"The city of Bridgeport is a melting pot; I knew Holyoke was like that," Bailey said. "Walking around campus, I can see all the different ages, colors and backgrounds. I knew this was it. It's a community within a community. It's a great opportunity."
Bailey is African-American, with a trace of Native American mixed in, he said, and is often mistaken for Latino. "Most people, when they meet me, they start talking Spanish to me right away," he said, "but I have to say, I don't speak Spanish. I am what I am."
A native of Coltsville, Penn., Bailey moved to Bridgeport when he was 11 after the death of his father, who worked in a steel foundry. He was named William after his father, but his mother called him "Ron," which is not his middle name, so he wouldn't be teased by other children familiar with the Louis Armstrong song "Won't you come home, Bill Bailey?"
"She gave me that as an out," he said.
Bailey looks younger than his 61 years and speaks with a soft, unassuming voice. He is slim and fit and not nearly as tall or broad as many of his police colleagues, qualities that must have served him well in his years working undercover, as did his proficiency in martial arts. Bailey is a third-degree black belt in tae kwon do and the winner of four national titles in the sport.
He is the father of six adult children and has 11 grandchildren. His wife, Yvette, is a middle school teacher. In his spare time, he plays drums and sings in a Top-40 band.
He likes to stay active and said he can't ever imagine retiring. "No, never," he said. "I'm going to stay busy."
If his job as chief of police at HCC doesn't keep him busy enough, his schoolwork likely will. After his first master's degree, he plans to pursue a second, he said, in social work, and then a PhD.
"Eventually, I'd like to teach," he said, so he certainly feels comfortable at HCC.
"As soon as I got to campus, I felt relaxed," he said. "I'm gonna love it here."
Photos: (Left) HCC President Bill Messner, left, welcomes Ron Bailey to campus as Bill Fogarty, vice president of Administration and Finance, looks on. (Right) William "Ron" Bailey.