Villagers query chiefs-to-be
- Published: October 11, 2012
If he is appointed police chief, candidate Tony Pettiford said he will work alongside his officers and be actively involved in the day-to-day policing of the community. If he is named police chief, candidate Art Scott said he will make sure officers and staff receive the training they need to be a top-notch police department. If he becomes chief, candidate John Milstead said he will strive to maintain the department’s personal, face-to-face connection with all aspects of the community, including residents, youth, seniors and business owners.
The three candidates took turns being interviewed by a group of about 25 villagers who gathered in an open forum with Village Council members on Wednesday evening, Sept. 26, in Council chambers. The three men are being considered for the position of Yellow Springs chief of police, which Village Manager Laura Curliss hopes to fill by late October.
Community policing was a topic of interest to the villagers present, including Betty Ford, Zoe Van Eaton-Meister and Council member Rick Walkey. Each candidate had his own version of what that meant.
To Scott, while he agrees that it is “critical that I get out and learn first hand what the community expects,” he trusts that his officers have “picked up on the traditions of [former] Chief [Jim] McKee” and understand the needs of this unique community. As chief, however, Scott’s highest priority is to “man the ship” and make sure that things don’t deteriorate organizationally the way they have in the past, he said. He means to ensure that all staff members receive the procedural training they need to become a top level police department.
On the contrary, Pettiford believes that the local police “have to be more community oriented” by having a hyper public presence throughout the village. As chief, Pettiford said he would hold himself to the same standard.
“The community wants to see their chief at meetings, at the schools, at the bus stops,” Pettiford said. “They want to see him in the community — that’s how we do it in Yellow Springs.”
Pettiford also believes that the community needs to gather regularly to dialogue “about what we need to do to make this a safe environment.”
Milford praised the community policing of past Village police chiefs and said he would continue to see policing as a partnership with the residents, who are the “eyes and ears for what’s going on here.” He would emphasize more patrolling on foot and bicycle to facilitate those personal interactions.
“We call it taking the metal out of the equation,” he said.
And in order to better understand the safety concerns of local business owners, he would personally get to know every business owner in the village, he said.
Approach to youth
A big part of community policing involves the chief’s approach to issues involving village youth, which many who attended the police forum voiced a keen interest in. Nan Meekin and Lisa Qualls asked how each candidate would address issues relating to village youth.
Milford has helped raise six children, including three boys, and believes that youth benefit by developing trusting and mutually respectful relationships with mentors, including police.
“It’s priceless to cultivate that trust,” he said. “Youth need role models, and officers need to be sensitive and tolerant, and be able to steer them without going to extreme measures,” Milford said, adding that he is ready to work with parents and other community mentors to do the gentle molding.
Pettiford would like to see a bigger police presence in the schools, especially in the upper grades. He hears graduates of the Yellow Springs D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program say they had a positive connection with police as elementary kids and then never saw them again except in a threatening way. He would like to change that.
“Our older kids have to know our police are there for them — that we’re all connected and there to help each other.”
Scott’s perspective was that it’s largely the job of the officers to interact with citizens, including youth. And as chief, he puts faith in the officers’ ability to remain within the parameters of their oath of office and their professional ethics when dealing with any situation, including those involving youth. In other words, he encourages officers to use their own discretion when deciding “who to arrest, who to warn or who to send to jail.”
Views on drugs, incarceration
The criminalization of drugs was another issue of interest for several villagers. Patti Dallas and Marianne MacQueen asked Pettiford how his views about the war on drugs would inform his approach to the local drug scene.
Pettiford held the line on the drug issue, saying a department under his leadership would “continue to follow the Ohio Revised Code” and work with the ACE Task Force and district and state attorneys to eliminate the drug problem. He wouldn’t support the legalization of narcotics, nor would he want to model for village youth a culture that tolerates marijuana or any other elicit drugs.
“Do we want people walking down the street smoking marijuana? Do we want our kids to see that?” he said. “That’s not the answer.”
Village Council member Judith Hempfling also asked Pettiford about his views on the local implications of the incarceration bias against people of lower income.
“I believe that we are held accountable for our actions,” Pettiford said, adding that police are responsible for assessing the context of the individual situations and then following through with the appropriate response by law.
“Are we incarcerating blacks for low quantities of drugs? Yes. But I don’t have the answers on how to control the drug war,” he said.
Pettiford also said in response to a question about dealing with his own family and friends as an officer, “I’ve dealt with that at the county level. I’m sworn to uphold the laws of the State of Ohio. I’ve had to arrest friends — it’s part of my job, and it’s nothing personal.”
In response to several questions from Florence Randolph and Alice Earl Jenkins about candidates’ approach to interdepartmental affairs, each again had different ideas.
Milford believes in being “100 percent above board” and helping his officers to work their problems out through dialogue. He also said that as chief he would be actively involved on all shifts to better survey officers’ needs at all times of the day and night.
Pettiford, who supervises 14 officers at CSU, deals with internal staff conflicts “swiftly,” he said, because “if you don’t handle them they tend to grow.”
Also in terms of departmental leadership, for safety reasons, Pettiford said, he would make it a priority to have two officers on duty at all times, regardless of budget concerns. And he as chief would also act as another officer in uniform.
“You can’t put a price on what these guys do,” he said. “And you can’t depend on the sheriff’s department — they can’t always get there in time.”
On a personal note
Each candidate took about 10 minutes during the forums to introduce himself to the community.
Scott started his career out on the NCR factory floor but quickly decided he would prefer a more people-oriented career. He worked with the Lebanon police for 15 years before joining the Milford police as chief, where he created the smallest department in the country (13 officers) to be accredited by the national police organization. He then served as chief in Mason, and then Beavercreek, where he was for 10 years before he retired in 2006. Though both the Fairborn Daily Herald and the Beavercreek Record reported that Beavercreek City Council fired Scott, several former Beavercreek council members told the Yellow Springs News last week that Scott had been pressured to leave due to his failure to comply with the city’s policy that the police chief reside within the city limits.
Before coming to the Village, Scott spent a year in Afghanistan as a policy advisor for the national police in that country. Scott lives just north of Lebanon and had hoped to be with Yellow Springs at least until his wife retires in three years.
Pettiford, currently the chief of police at Central State University, has 29 years of law enforcement experience, he said, including 27 years with the Greene County Sheriff’s department and SWAT, FBI, Homeland Security and Northwestern University Command School training. Pettiford’s family has been in Yellow Springs since the 1800s as business owners and employees of Antioch College, Vernay Laboratories and the public schools. Growing up in the village, Pettiford was inspired by former Chief McKee and emulated his interpretation of community policing.
Pettiford lives in Yellow Springs with his wife Jody, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Mills Lawn, and their three children.
Milford is currently the head of security of the Dayton City Libraries. He has 31 years of law enforcement experience, including 20 years as a state police officer in the department of mental health. He has worked in health facilities in Columbus and Dayton, serving as chief at the Lindner Center in Mason, and has been a part-time deputy sheriff deputy since 2004.
Milford lives in Washington Township with his wife and six children. He is also a candidate for police chief in Enon.