New Ontario police chief puts focus on community and collaboration

Steven Romero was recently named chief of police in Ontario. (Submitted photo)

HAWTHORNE, California – Ontario’s new police chief, Steven Romero, is big on building partnerships between police and local community groups.

“I think Ontario is good fit for me, with its local government, community and diversity of cultures,” Romero said in a brief telephone interview Monday. 

City manager Adam Brown announced the selection of Romero, a lieutenant with the Hawthorne Police Department in Southern California, last Friday. He succeeds Cal Kunz, who left to take a job in West Wendover, Nevada.

Romero said the opportunity in Ontario also falls in line with his professional goal of becoming a chief of his own department.

 “Of all places I looked at for police chief openings, Ontario was the perfect fit,” he said.

Romero hopes his law enforcement style will be a good fit for the community.

“I’m huge on collaboration and civic engagement. I’m a firm believer that the building strong relationships between the police, city government, schools, faith-based organizations is the only way to add value to a community,” said Romero. “I’m really big on inclusion – everyone should work collaboratively to make the community better.”

Romero said law enforcement has long been perceived as “being tough,” but he thinks modern policing should be service-focused and community-based as well.

“I truly don’t know of any police organization that has been able to reduce crimes all themselves without partnering with community,” he said. “Police departments have own interpretations of community policing. But my goal as chief of Ontario is to develop a model that is consistent with what citizens want and has the capacity that we can truly accomplish.”

Romero has been in law enforcement for some 30 years. He was a patrol officer for four years with the Los Angeles Police Department before joining the Hawthorne Police Department in 1993 as a police officer. In Hawthorne, he became a sergeant in 2005 and lieutenant in 2009, according to his application for the Ontario job.

He has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, as well as a master’s degree in public administration with a focus on public finance management, both from California State University at Fullerton.

When not in uniform, Romero has been a board member for the Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce, organized fundraisers for his local Kiwanis chapter, and mentored youth at La Habra Cobras Youth Wrestling and Development Club, a nonprofit he started.

Romero said he plans to continue his community involvement in Ontario and Malheur County.

“I’d love to bring a good leadership institute that would open up training for the community, both for the youth and adults,” he said. “Among the positive changes I hope to bring to Ontario is developing a nonprofit for the police department that will allow us as a city agency to pursue any in-kind contribution and donations, which would be used to fund equipment, training, education, among other things.”

Romero would also like to establish a citizen-led police chief advisory council to give him input on community needs.

Romero also sees technology as an asset for Ontario to tap. He said the Hawthorne department, with fewer than 100 officers, is one of the most technologically advanced police agencies of its size, having its own helicopter platform, robots, specialized license plate readers, and other equipment.

“I’m hoping to be able to procure the adequate funding to implement these strategies and technologies in Ontario,” Romero said. “I intend to bring new ideas, but I certainly don’t want to come and change any positive cultures and institutions that already exist.”

Romero said he’ll be in Ontario later this week to go house-hunting with his family. He expects to move to the Treasure Valley no later than June 3 with his wife, a college-age daughter and high school-age son.

Reporter Kristine de Leon: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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