It’s not quite a night and day difference since Fairfield Twp. Police chief Robert Chabali took over, but it’s headed that way, he said.
Chabali, who retired in 2015 as the Dayton Police Department’s assistant chief, was sworn in as the township’s police chief in July 2017 — and since that time he’s begun implementing “a culture change.”
“Sometimes it takes up to three years for a culture change,” Chabali said. “I’d say the majority of the department is adapting to it … but we’re basically getting there.”
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He said the department is “becoming a contemporary professional police department.”
Changes since he took on the police department’s leadership post have included:
• promoting the two part-time office clerks to full-time
• hiring a part-time property room clerk to modernize the property room
• evaluating the purchase of in-car video cameras
• upgrading uniformed officers’ sidearms
• hiring of five new officers
“We’ve brought in structure,” said Chabali. “We’ve empowered our personnel, slowly updated the policies and issued directives to professionalize the department.”
The next change for the department could happen in a couple months, Chabali said, with in-car cameras.
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“I came from Dayton who had in-car cameras for 30 years. It’s a culture change when you bring in videos,” he said.
But don’t expect the township to pursue body camera yet, he said. More consideration is needed before the township makes any decisions on body cameras, including determining the cost benefits, and records retention and maintenance.
“If you go with body cameras, you just about need a full-time person to (manage it),” Chabali said. “I just didn’t want to take that big of a jump.”
Fairfield Twp. Trustee Shannon Hartkemeyer said she believes in “continuous improvement,” and that’s what Chabali is doing with the township department.
“We can always be better tomorrow. With Chief Chabali’s leadership, he has taken to assess and improve our department on a daily basis,” she said. “I’m proud of the work he’s doing in order to provide better service for our community.”
Trustee Susan Berding said Chabali has been "instrumental in reinvigorating" the police department.
"He has brought his big city experience to Fairfield Twp. to bring a higher level of professionalism as well as mitigate our risks," she said.
She also said the chief has been focused on community relations, and "has been a positive force in our transformation and I truly believe our police department is now better positioned to handle the ever-changing challenges facing law enforcement in the 21st century."
When Chabali arrived, he was told the township’s police force was “grotesquely undermanned, understaffed.” The chief had a staffing survey conducted, and with the caveat Chabali wanted the department involved in more community engagement, that survey determined the department was 10 officers understaffed.
“I came up with a reorganization, if you will, of the agency that was publicly presented,” he said.
But the challenge is being able to balance that plan within the constraints of a budget, he said.
Chabali would eventually want to see the township police department reach the 30-officer mark, but it costs about $100,000, with benefits, to hire each new officer. The township has seen an increase in calls for service by nearly 300 over the past four years, and an increase of nearly 200 more arrests over that same period.
The current authorized strength of 21 officers will be affordable in the township’s budget until 2024, Chabali said.