Youngstown Police Chief Foley has set bar high for successor

We doubt we’re the only ones disappointed that Youngstown Mayor-elect John A. McNally chose not to retain Rod Foley as chief of police. By any objective evaluation, Foley has been an exemplary top cop in a city that has long been defined by crime, especially homicides.

After two years and four months at the helm, Foley can point to the progress that has been made to get the drug-dealing gang bangers off the streets — with the active participation of federal and state law enforcement agencies.

The crime statistics tell the story, which Mayor Charles Sammarone contends is due in large part to the strategy developed by Foley, who has been with the department since 1991 and was chief of detectives prior to his promotion.

But despite this stellar record, McNally has chosen to put his stamp on the police department by appointing a retired city police officer, Robin Lees, to succeed Foley.

Lees, who served as head of the vice squad, the Mahoning Valley Crisis Response Team and the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force, retired after 33 years’ service.

He was not one of the original applicants for the chief’s job, but was asked by McNally to submit a resume after the mayor-elect found out he was interested.

There’s no doubt that Lees has the experience and knowledge to the lead the department, but we would urge him and the new mayor to review the current administration’s anti-crime campaign and adopt the initiatives that are working.

For too long, the city of Youngstown has been defined by its crime rate. One year, in the not too distant past, it had the highest per capita homicide rate in the nation. That became a national story.

Today, however, neighborhoods long held hostage by gun-toting drug dealers, are breathing sighs of relief as the increase in police patrols makes life easier — and safer — for residents.

But the illegal drug trade and the attendant violent crimes are far from eliminated, which means the new police chief, Lees, will have to focus on them.

Press relations

Lees does have an advantage as he takes over a department hamstrung by the large number of retirements in the patrol division (Foley has added 20 new officers): he has a good working relationship with the press.

He served as the department’s public information officer under Chief Jimmy Hughes and earned high marks for his accessibility and honesty.

We have questioned the need for a PIO in a relatively small department serving a shrinking city. Thus, we would urge the new chief to be his own spokesman. Serving the public interest means dealing with the press — openly and honestly.

Mayor-elect McNally has been around local politics long enough to know that there’s nothing to be gained by shrouding city government in secrecy.

Indeed, outgoing Mayor Sammarone’s decision to install GPS tracking on 330 city-owned vehicles is the kind of transparency the public expects from government.

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