Okeechobee City selects police chief

OKEECHOBEE — Robert ‘Bob’ Peterson was named the new police chief for Okeechobee City Police Monday after a near five-hour meeting at city hall.

It was a close call for council members as they debated each of the five finalists who showed for interviews.

Peterson said he plans to increase training, foster a better relationship with the community and improving employment opportunities.

“Our goal is to become part of the community and the community to become part of us,” he noted.

He plans to have officers visit and give talks in the schools, and expand the auxiliary program.

Peterson said the police do a good job of controlling the crime problem. He said Okeechobee is a safer community than many in Florida.

“We will continue to make it an even safer community and an enjoyable place to live,” he said.

Bob Peterson was selected as the new Okeechobee City Police Chief.

Peterson said he would support the use of body cameras but warned there is a cost, not only in the actual cameras, but keeping the records.

“I think it actually protects officers from false allegations. Right now the state attorney does not recommend them, so we are working on that,” he explained.

Peterson was recommended by Sheriff May and State Attorney Ashley Albright. He also got the unanimous support of the department employees.

“This will not work if it’s just me, it has to be us. I’ve never been a chief. I’ve accomplished a lot but I feel I have the trust and the respect of the employees and other agencies,” he said.

Peterson had worked for several agencies including the Glades County Sheriff’s Department where he rose to the rank of under sheriff under Barry Walbourn. He had risen to the rank of major under then Police Chief Denny Davis in Okeechobee.

Councilman Gary Ritter said the city has raised the bar in management positions.

Mayor Kirk said he thought all of them were close.

“I can make a case for any one of them,” said Kirk.

Council member Dowling Watford said it is hard to narrow them down and all of them were great candidates.

“This process would have been much easier if Major Peterson had applied from the beginning. It’s a question, if I want that job why didn’t I apply at the beginning.”

Peterson said he absolutely has his heart in the job and wouldn’t have applied without wanting the position.

“I have a lot of options at this stage of my career but in the end I had no options because this was the job for me and I’m eager and ready to go,” he said.

He said while it was a plus that employees want Peterson, he said he didn’t want that to make or break his decision. He said an outsider would bring new ideas.

Jeffrey Cavender was listed on all five lists after council was asked to narrow the list to the top three. Cavender, a police chief in Illinois, would have had to become certified as a law enforcement officer in Florida.

Council member Noel Chandler said he felt Peterson was the best candidate.

“He is already doing what we want. All the employees gave him high marks. I don’t want to step on our employees toes,” Chandler said.

Council member Mike O’Connor said he felt qualifications include experience and knowledge and he wanted things Okeechobee currently doesn’t have.

Ritter said he favored the local candidate Peterson because he has worked with him. He wanted to support promotion from within.

“He knows the community and the people and the surrounding counties,” he added.

Mayor Kirk said Cavender impressed him, but he would like to hire one of the three local men because they know the community.

“I would encourage the city in the future to know when you are putting people up the ladder that they are people you would want eventually to lead the department.”

Chandler made the first motion to hire Peterson. The vote failed (3-2).

Kirk said he wouldn’t want to hire someone on a split vote.

Council member Watford changed his mind to support Peterson on the second vote to get the four votes required by the mayor.

Alfredo Ferrer from the Miami Dade Police Department removed his name from consideration despite being listed as one of the six finalists.

Other candidates included Christopher Alexander, Marty Faulkner and Paul Miles.

Alexander focused his interview on trust, giving credit to police officers and integrity.

“If you are doing things right what do you have to fear. I support promotion from within,” he noted.

He said he would support additional technology and purchase tools when affordable that make the job of a cop easier. He said he had no plan to bring a big city police mentality to Okeechobee. He had worked for the New York City Police and is a magistrate now in North Carolina.

Faulkner, a detective for the Okeechobee Sheriff’s Office, said he knew the community, and promised to be very involved as the police chief.

“Nobody you interview today will be more involved in the community,” he said.

He promised to improve community policing programs, be a chief for the people and dedicate many years to the position. He also promised to be cooperative with the sheriff’s department.

“There would be no greater honor than being named police chief for me,” he added.

“Seventy percent of our crimes today are from theft. If we educate the public we can help solve that. I want to make this a safe community where residents feel say and I feel I’m the right guy for the job,” he said.

Miles, a captain for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department, is the Division Commander in Royal Palm Beach, a position similar to a police chief.

He said he would support education, and additional training for employees. He also said body cameras are very useful and make a department transparent.

“A small agency must do more with less. You need to be visible and serve what the public wants,” he said.

Miles said he would foster relationships with schools and the clergy in the community. He said he is upset with the negative media coverage of police in this country. He helped start and operate the Eagles Academy for troubled youth in Palm Beach County and is a graduate of the FBI Academy.

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