Oscar Perez, 38th police chief for the City of Providence, and the first Colombia-born police chief, explains what he sees as the key to being successful in his new job: “Listening! I get extensive feedback from the mayor, other city department heads, patrol and command officers, and residents, which is all critical to our success as all of these stakeholders ultimately hold the keys to our ability to deliver a safe city. We [the police] can’t do it alone. We need everyone involved.”
“As chief, I understand that the real challenge is ‘The buck stops here,’” explains Perez. “Decisions affect the force and the public and it’s critical to get it right. You know decisions will be scrutinized on many levels. Perception has never been more important. And, there’s a lot more eyes on everything that we do.”
Perez is down to earth in both his mannerisms and speech. He is relaxed and confident in his ability to do the job, and the respect and admiration within the force are clear when you inquire about him. Patrol officers share that he treats everyone fairly, doesn’t lead with superiority or arrogance, and genuinely cares for their wellbeing.
Born in Medellin, Colombia, Perez and his family moved to Elma Street in South Providence when he was 13. He couldn’t speak English, but discovered a boxing gym near his home where he learned a number of life lessons, like what it takes to remain standing in a fight! (His boxing days are mostly behind him now, he joked.) He admits his neighborhood had many social challenges and he saw how the police officers handled them, some better than others. “But, I was happy that they were there … protecting my neighborhood.”
Perez went to Roger Williams Middle School, graduated from Central High School, and earned a bachelor’s degree in Administration of Justice from Roger Williams University and a master’s degree in criminal justice from Boston University. He became one of the few Latino officers in the department in 1994. Over the next almost three decades, Perez worked his way up the ranks, gaining hands-on experience in virtually every aspect of urban policing. Starting in the patrol division, subsequent years included time in the detective division, youth services, administration, gang intervention, neighborhood response teams, and organized crime, among others – in short, the full gambit.
Somehow, Perez also found time to serve as an adjunct professor in the Administration of Justice Department at both Roger Williams University and Salve Regina University and he has served on the RI State Parole Board, where he has been noted for his professionalism and compassion using his knowledge of the streets.
“I’m a big believer in second chances,” he notes, “and I think that good policing with a true understanding of the socioeconomic situation can have great effects on people’s lives.” Perez is a firm believer in the importance of community policing and was fortunate to be able to work closely with his mentor, friend and predecessor Hugh Clements, who now works in Washington DC as the director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services for the Department of Justice. “Better training and community policing have both proven to have great effect on how officers interact and provide safe neighborhoods,” says Perez.
Perez admits he would like to see a larger force. He inherits a department with a full complement of 491 police officers; with the newest recruiting class, it should hit 473, but another wave of retirements will impact the count. Perez plans to make recruiting a year-round effort, though it’s a constant challenge not just in Providence, but nationally. But given Perez’s impressive story, he may be one of the best recruiting tools the department has ever had. “I still believe that it’s a great job with plenty of opportunity for growth and development and a good career.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here