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First African-American police chief takes post, joining the ranks of minority chiefs
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa


Oct. 21, 2011: Toledo’s public safety forces continued to make history Friday, as the city’s first African-American police chief—Derrick Diggs—took the helm, joining the city’s first Latino fire chief, Luis Santiago. It is the first time in the city’s history that both public safety forces are being led at the same time by minorities.


“I never had any visions of being a chief,” Diggs admitted. “I had no visions of being a deputy chief, had no visions of being a captain. All I ever wanted to do was be a cop.”

The new police chief spoke little of himself during the ceremony. Instead, he thanked a number of mentors he credited for helping him rise through the police ranks. He also told anecdotes of his family. The mother of Chief Diggs was unable to attend the ceremony because of illness.


Chief Derrick Diggs

“I wouldn’t be standing here today if it wasn’t for her,” he said, choking back tears while explaining how she worked three jobs so he could attend school, play football, and go to college.

“So when I get through all this hoopla here today, at the end of the day, I’m going to go visit my mom. I’m going to take this chief’s badge and sit with her and tell her that her son’s the chief of police for the city of Toledo.”


That story drew hearty applause from the audience. Diggs’ sister, niece, and son Derrick, Jr. attended the ceremony. The younger Diggs is a U.S. Marine and a correctional officer at the Lucas County Correctional Center. He hopes to one day become a police officer like his dad.


“That’s my boy, my pride and joy—one tough kid,” said Chief Diggs of his son.


“He’s definitely up for the challenge. He’s worked hard, he has plenty of experience and education,” said the younger Diggs of his father’s new role. “He is a great leader and mentor.”


The police chief’s son currently is working on a criminal justice degree and hopes to find the same mentors in law enforcement that his father did.


“So for all you ex-partners and retirees, when you leave here today remember one thing: you’ll be walking with me as I carry this badge as chief of police for the Toledo Police Department,” Diggs said.


The new police chief also addressed the officers who will serve under him: a department that has thinned to 550 sworn officers from more than 700 when Chief Navarre first headed the force in the late 1990s. Reinforcements are on the way: six new officers will graduate soon from an accelerated police academy. 44 new recruits will begin training in mid-November, set to join the police force sometime next May.


“We are a thin, blue line. Unfortunately, we’re going to get a little thinner as the weeks and months go on,” Diggs warned. “Because of that, we’re going to have some challenges. That’s OK, that’s all right. Because we’ll meet those challenges and we’ll deal with those challenges. You are Toledo’s finest. I want you to remember that.”


While downplaying the historical significance of Diggs as Toledo’s first black police chief, city officials emphasized the new police chief’s qualifications. But they did acknowledge the historical importance in a number of areas going forward. One of those is the message it sends to young minorities.


“It says if you’re determined and you’re driven to do so, you’ll succeed,” said Fire Chief Luis Santiago, recently appointed as the city’s first Latino to oversee fire operations. “You can be top cop. You can be the top fireman. That’s been achieved here in the past few months on both sides. It’s truly an honor and something we’re proud of. Now we just look forward to serving.”


“We’re a very diverse city and we have a lot of qualified people here that crosses racial lines,” said Toledo Mayor Mike Bell after the ceremony. “It’s going to be very good for our city. One of the things that make Toledo so strong is its diversity.

“For the young people, they just need to step up and do the right things and put themselves in place to be police officers and firefighters and the rest will take care of itself through hard work.”  

The day his appointment was announced last month, Police Chief Diggs told reporters he had a “bold and ambitious” plan for moving the department forward.


Part of that involves re-establishing more positive relations between the police department and some of the city’s neighborhoods. Diggs admitted there is a “disconnect” in some areas, where witnesses won’t come forward and victims refuse to cooperate. Both factors hamper the work of investigators, he said. As the city’s first black police chief, he hopes to heal that relationship.


The new police chief also hopes to use more technology to fight crime. Diggs is working on a plan to use up to $1 million from the city’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund to install a real-time video surveillance system. As many as 75 cameras would be installed at “strategic locations” across the community. The police department also launched an updated website Friday.


Retiring police chief Mike Navarre


In the swearing-in ceremony, Diggs was sworn in by his predecessor, outgoing police chief Mike Navarre, 55, who retired. Both men came from the same police academy class in 1977.


“Chief Navarre has been one of the most honorable chiefs we’ve ever had in the history of the department,” said Bell, who noted the retired police chief’s tenure has been marked by the 9-11 terrorist attacks and homeland security concerns, as well as other challenges.


“For me, Mike Navarre has been an unbelievable friend,” said the mayor. “He has this wisdom that always seems to kick in at the right time, to where he is just so calm.”


But Mayor Bell also noted that such a transition between police chiefs of equal experience is rare. Diggs, 56, has served as a deputy police chief for a decade.


“He has been preparing for leadership for a long period of time,” said the mayor. “He knows the department. He knows the people. He’s very street-oriented. I know he’s going to do a good job”


“It’s been a great ride,” said Chief Navarre of his police career.


The outgoing police chief also noted the significance of the Diggs appointment.


“I know a lot has been said about his being the first African-American police chief in the city of Toledo and I think it’s important to note that for history’s sake,” said Navarre. “But make no mistake about it: he’s not standing up here because of his race. He is very well-qualified. The city of Toledo is fortunate he waited for this opportunity because I’m quite certain that he could have gone to any city our size across the country.”



Copyright © 1989 to 2011 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10/25/11 13:13:28 -0700.





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