Following an abrupt departure by former Oberlin Police Chief Juan Torres, City Manager Robert Hillard is now tasked with finding his replacement.
Torres originally planned to leave in April due to a family member’s illness back in Virginia, but was forced to resign in late December as the situation escalated. Lieutenant Michael McCloskey, Torres’s second in command, has been serving as the city’s interim police chief since Torres’s unexpected departure.
“If he moved [his resignation] forward in the way that he did, I can only assume it’s more imperative that he take care of his family right now instead of waiting until April,” City Councilmember Kelley Singleton said.
As city manager, Hillard bears the responsibility of selecting a new chief, but he will be leading focus groups as a way to receive community input throughout the process.
“[I will] use information gathered in focus groups to create a vision and strategic goals for the future of the Oberlin Police Department,” Hillard said.
After focus group meetings conclude at the end of the month, Hillard will advertise the position in 30 different locations that are currently undecided. Following the applications, a selection panel will choose three to five individuals based on technical criteria before Hillard selects one as the new chief. If all goes according to plan, the process will be completed by the end of summer.
Hillard said he hopes to find applicants with diverse backgrounds and experiences, especially within active college towns with a small downtown environment. McCloskey, a veteran with 21 years of experience with the police department, will apply for the job as an internal hire but will be considered alongside other applicants.
“Most important is the ability to communicate with a staff,” McCloskey said. “As a leader of an organization, you need to be able to communicate a vision, a mission and your guiding principles.”
According to McCloskey, the police chief ’s congeniality with the city’s residents and their ability to communicate with a wide variety of people are important to a chief ’s success.
“[The Police Chief needs to] communicate with a diverse population like Oberlin has, where professors and students live alongside townspeople of all professions,” McCloskey said. “[The police chief] needs to be relatable in a community with various environments.”
Although Torres only acted as chief for a little over a year, many in city government and the community said they are sad to see him go.
“I particularly appreciated the speed at which he got to know the community, partly by visiting key places and leaders,” City Councilmember Linda Slocum said. “I was present at a community meeting [at Mount Zion Fellowship Hall] where he listened to heart-felt citizen comments about policing in Oberlin and answered with genuine concern and humility, not defensively.”
During his time in Oberlin, Torres was often easily accessible to meet with both townspeople and students. Torres met with protest organizers following the arrest of 21-year-old Oberlin resident Brae Chamberlin last semester, agreeing to give a presentation to students this semester on police procedure before his departure. According to City Councilmember Bryan Burgess, Torres’s open-door policy made him especially approachable to Oberlin residents.
“Chief Torres had an open-door policy so any resident could make an appointment to sit down with him and talk about particular topics,” Burgess said. “He organized walks where, at lunchtime, people could meet down at the police station and just walk around the neighborhood with him. at would bring out perspectives not only on neighborhood policing, which he was really a proponent of, but also made people feel more at ease with him.”
During his tenure as police chief, Torres introduced and passed an ordinance attempting to solve issues with bicycle parking on downtown sidewalks. The law was part of an effort to obtain Ohio Collaborative Certification, which is a set of law enforcement standards that improve community-police relationships. According to McCloskey, the department is working diligently to see these projects through.
“I’ve been busy because I’m wearing two different hats, performing the duties of a police chief and a lieutenant, so I’ve been doing a sort of juggling act which is challenging, but I’m enjoying it, and I’m up to the task,” McCloskey said. “I feel I have the full support of the staff, which has been very helpful.”