Despite not having a lifelong dream of becoming a police officer, Newark Police Chief Erik McKee found a home within the law enforcement community.
He also found a passion for the job.
Though McKee didn’t intend on becoming a police officer – or chief – as a child, it’s his passion for the job and community policing that keep him coming back.
“Growing up, I always admired law enforcement. But I didn’t have a strong desire to be in law enforcement. That calling didn’t come until way later in life,” he said. “I love coming to work every day – still. I’m in my 26th year and I love coming to work every day.”
Enlisting in the U.S. Air Force right out of high school, McKee chose to become a law enforcement specialist. He soon after completed a tour in Desert Storm.
“That sort of started my law enforcement career. I’d planned on staying in the Air Force forever,” he said during a recent interview with The Advocate. “I was stationed at Newark Air Force Base, which is how I ended up here in town…I decided to get out and become a civilian police officer.”
After applying to both Columbus and Newark PD, McKee pledged to join whichever department called first. He joined NPD in 1995.
Deputy Chief Darrin Logan said he served as McKee’s field training officer when he joined the department. He described McKee as even-keeled, mild mannered, someone who listens to what people have to say, and someone who takes pride in what he does.
“He was the very first person I had when I was a field training officer,” Logan said. He remarked on how he’s seen McKee grow over the years from a police officer who only had to worry about himself and his dog to now a police chief who has to worry about an entire organization. The job now, Logan said, is less about being a police officer and more about listening to people, forming relationships, and things like that.
McKee described his career with the agency as “really high speed,” as he went on to serve as a field training officer and then for nine years, as a K9 officer before he was promoted to sergeant and then captain. The department changed their captain positions to deputy chiefs.
“I thought that’s where my career was going to end here was as a deputy chief and obviously with the tragic death of Chief (Steve) Baum, things rapidly progressed,” McKee lamented.
Baum, who was sworn in as chief in July 2020, died in March 2021 after suffering a medical emergency at his home.
More:Hundreds gather to remember Newark Police Chief Steve Baum in Heath
In addition to grieving the loss of his friend, McKee also faced the logistical challenge of not having a formal transition period. He explained ordinarily there will be a transition period of an old chief training the new chief. He found help through former Newark police chief Barry Connell and the Licking County Chiefs Association.
McKee said the department also went through a period prior to several promotions where he and the deputy chiefs held dual responsibilities.
Discussing the current state of the department, McKee said their agency is down five officers and has two impending retirements. Referencing a recent article about some hiring challenges Heath police face, McKee said their agency experiences the same challenges in hiring officers.
During his tenure as chief, McKee said he’d like to see the agency return to 86 police officers, which is the highest number the agency had since the recession hit in 2008.
According to McKee, the agency has worked to transition its fleet to Police Interceptors. Noting 60% of their fleet are hybrid vehicles, he said they’ve seen a 20% fuel savings. With the recent increase in fuel prices, he said they’re right on budget for fuel.
McKee said the agency has implemented a new field training program, instituted an online reporting system on their website, for non-priority calls and to request copies of reports. Technology-driven, McKee said their agency is also updating its website to make it more user-friendly.
Looking ahead, the chief said NPD anticipates getting new radios through American Rescue Plan dollars, implementing new body cameras over the summer, starting an e-bike project for increased visibility downtown during special events, and switching their weapons platforms due to the cost of ammunition.
Newark police recently unveiled the addition of a police robot, to be used during certain instances for officer safety, and drone during a demonstration.
More:‘Progressive’ police robot to aid, protect Newark police officers
As their manpower increases, McKee said he hopes to be able to host self-defense classes, expand their community intitatives unit into a neighborhood impact unit, hold a youth citizens police academy.
Much of these goals are dependent on attaining enough manpower, so McKee is focusing on recruitment. As the Intel project looms ahead, he’s also planning for anticipated residential growth in t
he Newark area.
Looking forward to the future of the department, Logan said he hopes the agency will continue listening to the citizens and the public, and try to connect further with the community. He noted equipment is always a big issue for the agency, but more recently they’ve been in a good position through the work of Newark Mayor Jeff Hall, Public Service Director David Rhodes, and Baum, who strived to get the agency newer cruisers.
Although he noted NPD is behind the times of where they should be when it comes to technology, he said they’re on the right path forward.