Steven Romero, the new Ontario police chief, chats with Adam Brown, city manager last week at city hall. Romero was sworn in as chief last week. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon).

ONTARIO – After 14 years of wearing a Hawthorne Police Department badge, Steven Romero is slipping into a new uniform.

Romero, formerly a lieutenant in southern California, was sworn in as chief of the Ontario Police Department last Monday at the City Council chambers. He got to work immediately.

“The city here has been absolutely amazing with exceptional people,” Romero said about his impression of the city so far. “The city staff and residents have been exceptional folks. It’s a very caring community. I challenge anyone to introduce me to someone who I’m not going to be impressed with.”

Romero started his professional law enforcement career in southern California and previously worked for the Los Angeles Police Department before transferring to the Hawthorne agency. After spending his life in an urban setting, Romero finds himself in rural eastern Oregon.

And he loves it.

“I’m really enjoying the community and my new home at OPD,” Romero said. “My No. 1 priority is to get myself skilled and versed in Oregon law, policies and operations.”

He said his second priority is to “assess the department’s capabilities and capacity to provide a full-service police department.”

Romero’s previous department had just under a hundred officers, whereas his Ontario team has 22 officers. He said the biggest difference between his previous job and Ontario is having to “look at things from a much more macro perspective.”

Romero said he wants to learn his officers’ needs and concerns so that he can address them and move the department forward. He wants to boost officer morale, “train up” officers, update the department’s standard operating procedures, upgrade its technology and strengthen the department’s relationship with the community.

Romero said he really values civic engagement and community collaboration.

He said he’s already met with leaders at the Oregon State Police and Malheur County Sheriff’s Department.

“I happened to have a meeting with Sheriff Brian Wolfe, and in my opinion we are a perfect match personally and professionally,” Romero said. “I believe my department is also going to develop a great working relationship with Mark Duncan,” a State Police lieutenant.

In five years, Romero wants the Ontario Police Department to be the “benchmark” for the Treasure Valley “where officers will want to work and live.”

“My overarching goal is to assure the wellness of all my officers, make sure that they are equipped and physically in great shape not only in terms of working out but that they are happy when they go to work. That they are supported and cared for,” Romero said.

In terms of short-term goals, Romero said he hopes to one day introduce drones and a robot to the Ontario fleet.

“I don’t look at those as strictly for enforcement tools. For example, I look at drones not as a crime tool but as a community improvement tool,” Romero said. “Drones can be used to enhance our safety in critical situations – fires, search and rescue situations. We’d develop policies for the use and deployment of drones in Ontario.”

As for robots, Romero said they were a “luxury” tool at his previous department.

“We used robots as a safety tool in cases such as search warrants, burglaries, calls at big structures, dark crawl spaces, and situations involving possible suicides where maybe someone is trying to hurt themselves or someone else. The robot would be used to reduce the risk.”

He said a basic robot would cost around $20,000.

“If I had my choice, I would go with getting a drone first because it has broader response capabilities,” he said.

Have a news tip? Reporter Kristine de Leon: news@malheurenterprise.

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