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Austintown promotes three police officers

Submitted photo Sgt. Dan Burich, Lt. Jeff Churilla, Capt. Tom Collins. In back, Trustees Bruce Shepas, Robert Santos, Monica Davers, fiscal officer Laura Wolfe.

AUSTINTOWN — The Austintown Police Department has some new faces in leadership roles.

At Monday’s regular meeting, the township’s Board of Trustees gave Chief Robert Gavalier the green light to appoint a new captain for the department.

Tom Collins, a 15-year lieutenant with nearly 30 years in the department, was the choice.

“There were two people who were highly qualified for the position, and we listened to Chief Gavalier, and he felt that it was the right decision to hire Tom Collins,” Trustee Robert Santos said.

Collins began his career in the patrol division, spending time as a canine handler. He has been the supervisor of the patrol division for several years and assumed many of the duties of a captain when Capt. Bryan Kloss retired nearly five years ago.

“His responsibilities were delegated to supervisors. I probably took about 80% of the workload, and the rest was delegated to the chief and one other supervisor,” Collins said.

The captain’s responsibility is to oversee the patrol and detective divisions, as well as dispatch and ensure that day-to-day operations comply with state and local laws and department policy. He also has to ensure the police chief’s vision for the department is being carried out.

“The chief was trying to run day-to-day things and work on the long-term vision and mission of the department and it was becoming intertwined and a bit overwhelming,” Collins said.

“When there’s a disagreement on situations, whereas before you had four different lieutenants, and four different personalities, and things got done four different ways, now I can mediate that and do it the way the chief wants things done.”

Santos said he has wanted a captain in the department since he and Trustee Monica Deavers were first elected in 2021. However, the legal troubles of former trustee Steve Kent caused internal problems, Santos said, and stalled the progress of many of the township’s goals.

Once Kent was convicted on a felony charge of tampering with evidence last year, the trustees brought in former township administrator Mike Dockry to hold the seat while the township awaited the results of the November election, which was won by Bruce Shepas.

“We were just waiting for Bruce to get acclimated, and he wanted to wait until he was able to do his due diligence before he was asked to vote on anything like this,” Santos said.

Santos said now was the time to make the move, with Gavalier’s retirement looming.

“The chief has been around a long time, and we wanted to be sure our captain is trained by someone like Chief Gavalier,” he said.

Outside of daily operations, Santos said it is important for the department to have a strong foundation and a good relationship with other agencies, like the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office.

“It’s important that we have one voice and one clear understanding, so everyone knows when cases come up, ‘this is how Austintown does it,'” he said. “We want to ensure that when we make that new hire for a chief, that there is continuity, and stability, and no hindrance to the safety of our residents.”

With Collins’ promotion, a lieutenant’s spot opened up, along with a sergeant’s position. Collins said the department held exams last year and made the decision to promote Sgt. Jeff Churilla to lieutenant, and Ptl. Dan Burich to sergeant, within the patrol division.

Burich’s annual base salary will be $76,300, Churilla’s will be about $85,00, and Collins will earn $93,600.

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