New police chief takes officeWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
As Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre prepares for retirement and Deputy Chief Derrick Diggs gets ready to take over, the former classmates expressed mixed emotions about the power change.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet, but I am excited. But, it hasn’t hit me yet,” said Diggs, who was in the same police class as Navarre and also joined TPD the same day, July 12, 1977. Diggs will be Toledo’s first African-American chief.
“My feelings are mixed. This has pretty much been my home-away-from-home for the last 34 years so it will be tough leaving this building for the last time when I close this door and walk down that hallway,” said Navarre, who is the third-longest serving chief in Toledo’s history at 13 years of service.
Navarre, 56, became chief in May 1998. During his tenure, Chief Navarre started the Retired Senior Volunteers on Patrol program in 2000, and the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies accredited the police department in 2003.
He grew up in a police family—his father James was a detective, who retired as homicide captain. Navarre decided to take the civil service test when his brother Daniel did. At the time, Navarre was doing manual labor for Pepsi-Cola.
“We knew it was very competitive, very difficult. Literally, a 1,000 people take that test and there’s only a handful of jobs,” Navarre said. Although, he hadn’t had much previous ambition to become a police officer, Navarre knew it was right for him after his first day.
“I was hooked. I knew this was what I was going to do the rest of my life,” he recalled. Daniel retired from TPD as a detective last year.
Diggs said he became a police officer because of a “childhood ambition.” He attended Adrian College on a football scholarship, graduating in 1977 and received his master’s degree in public administration from the University of Toledo in 1999. Despite his ambition and education, Diggs said that he didn’t foresee himself becoming chief.
“When I joined the police department I had no vision of ever becoming chief. I had no vision of really getting to the upper-command ranks. My whole thing was to be a cop and be on the street and go after bad guys. That’s what I wanted to do and what I liked to do,” Diggs said.
The 56-year-old has worked in several departments over his career, including Operations Division, Community Affairs, Public Affairs, Investigative Services Division and Special Enforcement Division, according to a news release.
“It’s easier probably to tell the places I didn’t work than the assignments I did have,” Diggs laughed.
Still, the responsibilities keep coming as Navarre has been assigning him chief duties on a gradual basis since January, Diggs said.
At a news conference in September, Mayor Mike Bell emphasized that Navarre is “not being booted out. He’s being timed out” and that a retirement date was set eight years ago.
Diggs said no retirement date has been set yet for him.
Once he retires, Navarre said he has remodeling plans and will travel to Florida to visit his father and daughter.
“I haven’t taken a lot of vacation in the last few years and there’s a lot of reasons for that. It seems every time I want to take a vacation, something would happen,” Navarre said. He also noted that he would likely look for another job, potentially in business.
“At some point, I’m going to have to find something to do with my life because I think I’m too young to not do that,” Navarre said, adding, “I’ve always had an interest in the business side. Business is what keeps communities thriving, keeps people employed. That’s the capitalist society we live in.”
Retirement will also leave more time to spend with his wife, Julie, and their four adult children, including Assistant Lucas County Prosecutor Lindsay Navarre. Diggs also has a grown son, who he raised as a single parent.
“At the time he was young, I was working in narcotics, undercover work, lots of hours and stuff and somehow we did it. Sometimes, I think back and I don’t know how it happened. How I was able to get him to school on time, go to all his football games, cross county meets, lacrosse games,” Diggs said.
During their tenures, Navarre and Diggs have seen many changes, both positive and negative.
“When I took over as chief in 1998, we had I believe, 730 officers. Today we’re down to 550. The number’s going to continue to decline before that next class graduates,” Navarre said.
Diggs said that a class of six officers was hired this September. “We put them through an accelerated police class to get them out on the streets as soon as we can because of the shortage of manpower,” he said, adding that he expects 44 more to be hired in November with an expected May graduation. If the budget allows, another additional 50 officers will be hired before then.
“Our problem is we’re losing officers faster than we can hire them, train them and put them on the street because of the lack of hiring that’s been done in previous years. Now we’re trying to catch up and it’s very, very difficult, and the budget is working against us as well,” Diggs said.
Another difficult time for Navarre was in early 2007 when Detective Keith Dressel was shot and killed while on the job. Navarre called it “difficult for me as a chief, very difficult for the department. [It] presented many challenges, dealing with arrest and prosecution and more importantly, dealing with the loss.”
That is really a true test of your leadership skills. I don’t know if I passed the test. I’d like to think I did.”
2006 also brought a challenge—a demotion from former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. Navarre spent about five and a half months as interim executive director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council before Finkbeiner asked him to return when the other candidate didn’t work out. “Obviously, he didn’t have any cause, he just wanted someone else there. He was coming in as a new mayor and he wanted to come in with a new cast of leaders. I accepted that,” Navarre said.
Navarre said he returned because “I enjoyed the job (as chief). I didn’t particularly like what I was doing. I was bored. I wasn’t challenged. And coming back gave me some sense of vindication.”
Despite their issues, Navarre thanked Finkbeiner for appointing him at the news conference announcing his retirement. Finkbeiner told the Toledo Free Press, “He (Navarre) had a gift of handing the extremely tense and dramatic times, the death of Keith Dressel a few years ago, reductions in manpower in the department, sometimes significant youth-related challenges to the police department with a great deal of coolness and confidence.”
One of Navarre’s major achievements stemmed from having less manpower—he implemented photo-enforcement throughout the city in 2000, making Toledo one of the first Midwestern cities with the technology.
“You’re going to see a greater reliance on video technology that’s going to fill that void that’s been left by decreasing tax bases, where police departments can’t have the number of officers that they once did. We’re a perfect example,” Navarre said.
Technology played an important role in Navarre’s legacy. After 9/11, Navarre, Sheriff James Telb and former Fire Chief Bell worked together to create a county-wide emergency radio system. Also, although the police department didn’t transition to a paperless office during Navarre’s tenure, he said he believes it could happen within in the next year.
Bell noted Navarre’s technological achievements at the news conference. “We’ve got a chief that has served our city for 34 years and he’s just been unbelievable. As a police officer and as a police chief, he brought a lot of new technology in, really calmed a lot of waters and he’s done it with full integrity,” Bell said.
As the days before Oct. 22 when he officially becomes chief dwindle, Diggs is reluctant to share future plans as Navarre is still in charge.
“We still have a chief who’s still running the department and for lack of a better term, we have a chief-in-waiting, like some of the NFL teams are doing. You’ve got the head coach and the head coach in-waiting.”
However, Diggs did note at the news conference that his plan will be “very ambitious and very bold” and he told the Toledo Free Press that community outreach will be one of his focuses.
“We can only have so many police officers on the street and there’s so much demand out there. But we also to have the citizens support us and work with us and give us information and believe in what we’re doing if we’re going to make the name for this community safe,” Diggs said.
When asked if he had any departing advice for the new chief, Navarre said, ““He needs to be open, listen to people. There’s a lot diff opinions out there. You can’t make everyone happy. Be fair. Be consistent.”
Still Navarre won’t be too far. “I’m still gonna have his cell phone. There’s going to be times, I’m still going call him,” Diggs said.