They have law enforcement experience in the city and in small towns. One is a decorated veteran. One pursued justice after the big fire in Luther five years ago. One currently serves as an officer on the Luther Police Department, and another one lives in Luther. One is an expert in training. All of them say they want to serve as Luther’s next police chief. All of them count “community policing” as a key to success to protect and serve the citizens of Luther.
What is community policing? Besides being a buzzword in the law enforcement community, it’s a practice that promotes building relationships with members of the community – from the oldest to youngest, in businesses and neighborhoods. It’s where your police department knows your community – your town, your residents, your businesses. Does anyone remember the Andy Griffith Show? Maybe community policing is a little like Mayberry.
Eight applicants were interviewed by the Luther Town Board of Trustees for the vacancy of Luther Police Chief. They each spent 15 minutes in Executive Session with the panel that began at 6pm on Tuesday, October 10.
The Luther Register found and contacted most of the applicants and conducted interviews via phone, email and in person with five of them who responded to inquiries. While the board does the hiring, not the public, the prospect of having a new police chief has brought significant public interest and curiosity about the applicants. The Luther Register wants to thank the applicants for taking the time to let the public get to know them.
Below is a brief of those interviews from those who responded, in alphabetical order.
Chuck Brewer, 54, is currently a Deputy Sheriff in Lincoln County where he is assigned to courthouse security. But the Wellston resident is known by many in Luther for his service in northeast Oklahoma County when he served with the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department. He was one of two officers assigned to investigate the devastating wildfire that impacted Luther five years ago. That case went to the multi-county grand jury. Brewer said that while there was no indictment, the case was investigated to its fullest.
Brewer said as chief he would provide Luther with a positive, professional police department and fair, quality law enforcement services for its citizens.
“While most of the Luther officers are professional in their jobs, I am aware the agency is sometimes viewed as being behind the times in their approach to crime enforcement as well as having a reputation for very aggressive traffic enforcement along the Historic Route 66. I have personally spoken with many retired travelers on fixed incomes who received traffic citations for violations as they passed through the Town of Luther. I found this saddening as it left folks with a bad memory of Luther during their first visit and I felt they would be unlikely to return or support the Town financially by visiting restaurants and local businesses. My belief and perspective is that more energy should be focused on felony crimes and promoting the Town professionally through the police department; traffic enforcement contacts should be viewed as an opportunity to educate the motoring public about traffic safety through conversation, warnings and other means, not simply through the issuance of citations,” said Brewer.
Ron Lentz, 47, is a training officer at Mid-America Christian University and spent a decade as a training officer for the Sac and Fox Nation. That makes up part of his 27 years experience in law enforcement. Training is such a part of how he thinks that when he saw the police agenda item for tonight’s Town Board meeting about rifle training in another town, he commented that if he gets chief, since he is a firearms instructor, that training could be offered in Luther as a revenue source not an expense. Lentz lives in nearby Wellston. A distinctive, he said, is he knows small towns and small-town law enforcement. And his policing style emphasizes empathy. He’s been on the scene when people are having their worst day, and connecting with folks through compassion makes a difference, and elevates the idea of community policing.
Lentz knows if he got the chief job, he’d have to hit the ground running. There’s a lot to do, from grant writing, to running on all of the shifts, to public relations and just listening to folks.
“I know I can be a positive role model and make the Town look good. Our training would emphasize being firm, fair and consistent in our department,” he said. “If you are going to do this in a small town, you have to be available and spend time drinking coffee with and visiting with people. I’ll be very busy the first year,” he said.
Kyle McDaniel, 43, is the local candidate. Making his home in Luther with his family, Kyle is a Marine and served honorably in the infantry and is a decorated veteran. That service led to the beginning of his law enforcement career when he joined the Provost Marshals Office (base police) at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. After his service and move back home, he spent three years with the Oklahoma City Police Department and gained extensive street experience. During this time he was transitioning to private business in the oil and gas industry, and that business was getting more and more successful. Eventually, he and his wife sought a quieter life moving to Luther six years ago. He joined the reserves at Jones Police Department, and worked holiday shifts to give the officers time with their families as a morale builder. He worked full-time at Jones PD during a staffing shortage and went back to reserves and served until earlier this year. But he said police work gets in your blood, “once you’re a lawman, you’re a lawman.” He points to fellow reservists who are retired homicide detectives, or spent years as investigators as an awesome resource to a town.
He’s also a proponent of community policing, seeking grant funding and improving accountability to citizens through transparent and frequent communication. He’s been doing his homework, attending Town Board and school board meetings and talking to whoever wants to talk to him. He has found out: there’s a lot of work to do.
“My focus as police chief would be to reinstate community trust and community involvement. It’s absolutely the cornerstone in a professional department. That has to be done first along with bringing up the professionalism and morale of the department,” he said.
McDaniel also said he would work on accurate crime reporting and investigation to increase citizen accountability, “and to get back to the old adage to ‘protect and serve,'” he said.
“Luther is a neat little community. This is where we chose to raise our family and we’re entrenched. We bank here, eat here, shop here, we do business here. We live here,” said McDaniel.
John Noriega, 38, is the current City of Langston Police Chief. A Guthrie resident, Noriega said he doesn’t know much about Luther but wants to learn quickly. ‘If selected I would like to have an open house so the community can come and have a meet and greet. I would like to hear the concerns of the community about the department in the past. That way we can build on that and have a productive relationship in the future,” he said.
He also said that community policing is paramount in a small community. “Myself and my officers will be engaged in the community as much as possible. I want the officers to be visible and approachable. We do this in Langston and it has been an outstanding experience. The children of the community will literally run to our patrol vehicles like we are the ice cream man to give us a high five, hugs and even selfies,” he said.
Noriega said in every small town the issues are similar, small budgets. He said in Langston he rebuilt the department and was able to purchase town vehicles with drug proceeds and grants. And he received a grant for his eight officers to have state-of-the-art body cameras.
Tony Walker, 33, signed on as a (volunteer) reserve officer for Luther when he worked as an officer at Tinker Air Force Base. He said he fell in love with the community and saw potential for growth within the department so he came to LPD as a full-time officer a year ago. Currently he is the LPD Field Training Officer and the Public Information Officer. He earned two associate degrees in police science as well as a bachelors degree from OSU in Emergency Responder Administration. Walker said he has established trust with several board members and people in the community and has the training to grow the department to its full potential. Walker said his goal is to emphasize community policing through establishing trust and maintaining a positive relationship with the community while still enforcing laws to keep the town safe.
“Luther is a close-knit community that relies on trust in all aspects. The town is very well-known because of its historic Route 66. Luther has a low crime-rate compared to some other small towns in Oklahoma,” he said.
Walker and other applicants recognize that the Eastern Oklahoma County Turnpike connecting I-40 to I-44 presents a potential for more population and economic growth for our area and sees the importance of emphasizing community policing and structure within the police department. Currently living in Choctaw, Walker and his family plan to move closer to Luther. His prior police service was in Chickasha and Prague.
It is not expected the Board will hire a new chief after tonight’s interviews. The regular town board meeting will begin after the executive session interviews with the applicants. The Luther Register will broadcast the regular meeting on FB Live (expect that around 8pm).