New public safety director: 'I was truly built for this opportunity'
Robert Clark knew his role as Columbus public safety director would be challenging.
- It got tougher on his second day on the job, when two police officers were arrested for alleged drug trafficking.
- The arrests reinforce his priority of restoring public trust in law enforcement, Clark tells Axios.
Why it matters: Clark's department oversees the Columbus police and fire departments. He will be closely involved with reforming local policing amid a record homicide rate and a year of social unrest.
State of play: Columbus has welcomed other new police leadership this year, including Chief Elaine Bryant and Assistant Chief LaShanna Potts.
Context: Clark, had initially applied to be police chief, but turned his attention to the public safety director opening after when Bryant was hired. as chief.
What they're saying: The director says his lengthy experience as a Youngstown police officer and FBI field office leader in Los Angeles prepared him for this late-career return to Ohio.
- "I just felt like I was truly built for this opportunity."
The big picture: The key to police reform, Clark says, is balancing enforcement of laws while also engaging with the community in a "proactive, innovative and substantive way."
- "We will never arrest our way out of the problems that we have in our communities."
Driving the news: Columbus is rapidly approaching a new high for homicides in a year, a grisly record set just last year.
- The unsolved murder of Clark's father in 1980 has made his lifelong pursuit of justice not just a career goal, but a personal one.
- Only when a case is solved, "that's when the healing begins for that family, and it doesn't begin until that happens. I know that personally."
Zoom out: Clark views crime, and homicides in particular, as being "manifestations of other social ills."
- Whether jobs, housing, mental health or other "core issues" — police should partner with other community leaders to help address these and therefore reduce the homicide rate, he says.
The intrigue: The Columbus Division of Police should look to do "old things differently," Clark says, and be open to new ideas.
- Clark wants to see a bigger focus on technology to engage with residents, but says . A police department podcast could be coming.
- The Alternative Response Program, which connects residents in need with social services besides police help when appropriate, has gotten positive reviews.
What's next: The Dept. of Public Safety is planning a "massive" recruitment campaign for new police officers and firefighters, with an ongoing emphasis on diversity.
- Clark wants to continue his involvement in local meetings to hear the needs of residents.
- "That's where I want to be. I don't want to sit at my desk five days a week and then go home … I recognize that there's an opportunity to be involved in the community."
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