© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Public Safety Director Ned Pettus Reflects On Four Decades Of Public Service

Ned Pettus at a police recruit class graduation ceremony.
Debbie Holmes
Ned Pettus at a police recruit class graduation ceremony.

Looking back on 40 years of public service, retiring Columbus Public Safety Director Ned Pettus says his greatest achievement is helping build diversity within the fire and police departments.

“Establishing the cadet program and laying the foundation for a pipeline into both police and fire that will enable public safety to better reflect the makeup of our community,” Pettus says.

Pettus graduated from the fire academy in 1977. He retired after a 35 year career which included rising to become Columbus’ first African American fire chief. In 2016, Mayor Andrew Ginther appointed him Columbus Public Safety Director.

Pettus says the job has posed many challenges. During his five years as director, he oversaw the introduction of body-worn cameras within the police department. He selected the first female assistant fire chief in Columbus. He managed the turbulence of Black Lives Matter protests and claims of police brutality. He also appointed the city’s first black woman to be police chief, who also came from outside of the department.

“It’s been very intense over these five years, always something going on, always something to review, to scrutinize, important decisions to make,” Pettus says. “And so, it’s very, very important to have an effective management team.”

Pettus says he found guidance from former Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs, the first woman to serve in that role.

“She was very knowledgeable, very familiar with the division, and you have to rely on that type of leadership to keep the community safe,” Pettus says.

Even as Pettus departs, he says the work to increase diversity must continue.

“These are 200-year-old organizations and yet we have never reflected the makeup of the community without federal consent decree intervention by the federal government,” Pettus says.

At age 69, Pettus says he is ready now to retire for good and spend more time with his wife, four children and nine grandchildren. His last day on the job will be August 31.

“I have a son in Clearwater, Florida so we have opportunities to go to places that have beaches and spend just about as much time as we want,” Pettus says.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.