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Columbus Names Former FBI Agent New Safety Director

Robert Clark, flanked by Mayor Andrew Ginther
Scott Good
Robert Clark, flanked by Mayor Andrew Ginther

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther has tapped Robert Clark, a former FBI agent who led operations at the Los Angeles field office, to serve as the city’s next director of public safety.

Clark is a Youngstown native with 35 years of experience in law enforcement. He initially applied to be the city’s police chief, but now he’ll serve in a role overseeing the divisions of police and fire.

He acknowledges there’s work to do building trust between public officials and the community, but he said he found success strengthening those relationships while he was posted in Los Angeles.

“I directly led with an amazing team, an effort to change the perception of how our community see law enforcement to reestablish that trust to reestablish that transparency,” Clark said.

As the city navigates police reform efforts, Clark said he’ll take his cues from the community.

“We understand that we are in an era now in 2021 where you cannot police beyond that which the community understands, that which the community will accept and that which the community will participate in,” Clark said.

Brian Steel, vice president of the fraternal order of police, said for now he’s feeling cautiously optimistic about the mayor’s choice.

“I was initially skeptical about Chief Bryant, and I couldn’t have been more wrong, I could not be more supportive,” Steel said of recently appointed police Chief Elaine Bryant. “If he’s half the leadership that Chief Bryant’s bringing to the table then we’re on a positive trajectory in this city.”

With grim figures for COVID-19 and homicides Ginther acknowledges the city is facing significant challenges, but he insists the city is laying the groundwork to “emerge even stronger,” afterward.

“To do this we’ll need steadfast leadership and a commitment to ongoing reform continuous improvement and community engagement at the helm of the department of public safety,” Ginther said.

Clark takes over for Ned Pettus, who retired recently after a 40-plus year career serving the city, the last five of which as safety director. Clark’s first day is September 26.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.