Increasing diversity, officer training and community outreach are among the goals of Reynoldsburg's new police chief.
Curtis Baker was sworn in June 30 during a ceremony at City Hall, 7232 E. Main St.
Baker, 46, was named interim chief in April, when former chief David Plesich resigned to rejoin his former department in Charleston, South Carolina.
Baker's "interim" title was removed June 22.
A committee that included Mayor Joe Begeny; City Attorney Chris Shook; Councilwoman Kristin Bryant, head of Reynoldsburg City Council's public-safety, law and courts committee; Brain Steele, FOP Lodge #9 vice president; James McKean, former police chief at Grove City; and Sandra Boller, city human resources director, interviewed five candidates.
Requirements included achieving a rank of command and a minimum of one year of police-command experience, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, police science or a related field and completion of advanced training.
Baker will earn a base salary of $134,000 annually, with benefits including health, dental and life insurance, plus a 19% contribution to his Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund account ($25,460) for a total benefits package worth $54,525 annually.
A Columbus native, Baker graduated from Westland High School in 1992 and earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Eastern Michigan University. He graduated from Capital University Law School in 2006.
A licensed attorney, Baker began his law-enforcement service in 1999 with the Hilliard Division of Police. He also spent about 18 months as a sergeant with the New Albany Police Department.
He met his wife, Jennifer, in high school. The couple has two children, a daughter, Brooke, 11, and a son, Brody, 8.
Baker has been with the Reynoldsburg Division of Police since 2018 when the deputy chief position was created. He said he applied for the chief's position in order to continue the work he started two years ago.
"We are in the midst of positive improvements within the department. I want to see those changes through," he said. "I enjoy working with a staff that is dedicated to being the most respected agency in the state.
"I am constantly impressed with their professionalism when faced with tragedy or hostile situations. I could not imagine not being here by their side."
Baker said he has discussed ways to improve police services with city leaders, including increasing training and diversity within the department's ranks.
Although the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic prompted a hiring freeze in the spring, Baker said recruitment continues, "so we are ready to hire once we have a better picture of what city finances will look like for 2021."
"We have also discussed a plan to form a civilian leadership committee," he said. "I would rely on this committee to determine the community's wants, needs and expectations of our police department.
"Our goal is to be the most respected agency in Ohio. To do that, we must be willing to adapt to what society expects from our police department."
In a May 28 Facebook post, Baker addressed George Floyd's "needless death," saying he stands with those in the community who "demand justice for George Floyd."
Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American, died May 25 during an incident that involved Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes after Floyd had been arrested for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store.
Baker said Reynoldsburg policy "prohibits any hold around the neck of an individual which restricts a subject's breathing."
"I discussed the death of George Floyd in person with several members of our agency," he said "All of them had the same opinion – that things should have been done differently and that the officer should be held accountable.
"I also reminded officers that current Ohio case law states that officers have a legal obligation to protect citizens from excessive force and that they may be liable if they fail to intervene during the application of excessive force."
In addition, Baker said Reynoldsburg officers receive training in cultural diversity, procedural justice, biased-based profiling, crisis intervention, civil liability and critical-incident stress awareness.
The department last year conducted an equity analysis review of traffic-stop data.
"It looks at data such as the number of traffic stops our officers perform and demographics of the people being stopped," Baker said. "It also takes into consideration neighboring ZIP code demographics, school demographics, crime locations and economic inequities."
He said the department implemented technology this year "to improve our ability to analyze each officer's traffic-stop data by location, time and race of the violator."
Community-outreach efforts such as 2019's "Illumination Project" series and the annual holiday "Shop With a Cop" tradition will continue, Baker said.
"We have a great opportunity to be the leader in central Ohio and show how police and community can come together for the common goal of a safer community," he said.
As deputy chief, Baker was responsible for all training, community outreach and internal affairs investigations, Begeny said.
Since taking over as interim chief, Baker helped implement the department's pandemic response plan and has worked to improve communication and minority recruiting, he said.
"Chief Baker is ready to take on the challenges of law enforcement in today's world and willing to work with all members of the community, as well as our school district, to bring a true sense of community to our city," Begeny said.
The city expects to post the deputy chief position this month, Begeny said.
Internal and external candidates will be considered and a new deputy chief is expected to be named in August, he said.