Mark R. Chaires, the son of the city’s first black police officer, took the oath of office this morning as the city’s first black police chief.
Chaires, 52, was sworn in by Mayor Brian U. Stratton. Chaires’ new chief’s badge was pinned on him by his mother, Dorothy.
Stratton, in appointing Chaires, said the 20-year-veteran clearly emerged as the strongest candidate for the post out of five who were interviewed.
“He is an individual of considerable character and integrity with a proven record of leadership and accomplishment within the department,” Stratton said. “Chief Chaires is the no-nonsense leader who has earned respect of rank and file officers ... and the public he serves.”
This morning’s announcement was attended by city leaders, law enforcement and many members of Chaires’ family.
In his first remarks as chief, Chaires thanked God and his family. He also thanked the city and the officers of the police department, but said a lot of work must be done to restore the department’s image in the eyes of the public.
He noted that customer service must be improved, including response times. He will also work on crime prevention and proactive policing.
“We have the makings of an outstanding police department, trust me, I will never lie to you,” Chaires said. “However, that’s not where we are now, so we have a lot of work to do.”
Chaires, one of three assistant chiefs, becomes the city’s 18th police chief. He also becomes the first black man to head a 160-member force that has made a concerted effort to recruit minorities. Chaires’ father, Arthur, became the city’s first black police officer in 1952, serving 27 years with the department.
Chaires now reports directly to Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett. Bennett called Chaires the right person for the job. He cited a list of positives, from his upbringing to his knowledge of the department and its issues.
“Look at what you got here today,” Bennett said. “You have somebody who grew up in the city. ... You have an honest individual who brings military discipline to the job.”
Chaires topped four other candidates in a search that lasted nearly a year and stirred debate over whether the department needed homegrown leadership or an outsider.
The debate had been fueled by a department that has been troubled for much of this decade. One investigation by the FBI sent four officers to prison for drug-related offenses. Drug evidence has been stolen, resulting in prison time for another officer.
Just two weeks ago, three officers were indicted on misdemeanor counts of official misconduct for allegedly failing to follow procedures in a controversial arrest last December. A grand jury declined to indict on more serious allegations.