Oberlin Police Chief Hire Sparks Controversy Within Department

Despite the Oberlin Police Department’s announcement in August to hire Elyria Police Officer Clarence “Ryan” Warfield as its new police chief, that desk still remains empty. Warfield has yet to accept his potential position not only because of the time required for a full background check, but also due to opposition from multiple sergeants in the department.

Warfield has over two decades of experience with the Elyria Police Department, where he began as a road patrol officer and eventually served in the community impact and investigative units. Town officials and current members of the Oberlin Police Department have variously voiced their support — or lack thereof — for the potential hire.

City Manager Rob Hillard was heavily involved in the process for selecting Oberlin’s new police chief, publicly endorsing Warfield as the prime candidate.

“[Warfield] is a great individual and exhibited the traits that I thought were acceptable based on the listening session criteria,” Hillard said.

Hillard added that he was interested in hiring a candidate focused on community building, working with youth in the community, and continuing to build a great relationship with Oberlin College and felt confident that Warfield will do just that.

Many officers disagree, however. Sergeants Patrick Durica, Melissa Lett, and Steve Chapman recently wrote to City Council expressing their lack of confidence in Warfield’s hiring, calling him the “least qualified candidate” for the position. They cited disciplinary infractions Warfield received while working for the Elyria Police Department as means for disqualification.

“When it is taken into account with his documented discipline from his current department … he would have been eliminated as a candidate for any entry level position within the Police Department,” the letter states.

The letter also mentions that many other members of the Oberlin Police Department have taken issue with the process of selecting a new candidate. It claims that members of the police force were denied their request to have a representative from the department serve as a panelist during the selection process.

“The panelists chosen to be a part of the application and interview process consisted of two individuals who were employed together and worked closely with the chosen candidate at his current department,” the letter reads. “Additionally, another panelist was also a personal reference for the chosen candidate, which renders the question whether the process was fair and equal to all candidates.”

Hillard maintains that the search was conducted fairly.

“The process is valid,” Hillard said. “I believe that the listening session, notes, and many items that came forward represent the entire community.”

The decision to hire an external candidate versus promoting an officer currently employed by the Oberlin Police Department was another decision that was criticized by Durica, Lett, and Chapman.

“An external chief eliminates any possible promotional opportunities for those individuals who wish to excel and advance in their professions, which in turn creates unmotivated employees,” they wrote.

Hillard chose not to respond to the claims from the three sergeants that Warfield is unqualified for the position. However, he said that the decision has yet to be made official.

“I think this is important to emphasize: We’re still in the process,” Hillard said. “[Warfield] has not accepted the official hire yet. We are still doing background. From there, we’re pursuing salary parameters, and a start date would need to be determined.”

Warfield did not respond to a request for comment.