In the first month since taking over as the sixth director of the Riley County Police Department, Brian Peete has done a lot of visiting with members of the public.
A well-attended meet and greet was held Thursday at the Flint Hills Discovery Center. A day later, Peete visited with KMAN, calling the ceremony both heartwarming and emotional.
“It’s extraordinarily refreshing and blessed to be part of a community that has high expectations, but also understands that it takes everyone to move public safety and to move just the general vibe of a community forward,” he said.
Peete was hired by the Riley County Law Board in late October, but finds himself in a unique position, now that four of the seven members who hired him based on a more progressive approach to law enforcement, have since transitioned off the board, swinging the political pendulum from a liberal entity to a more conservative one. Peete says he’s been reassured by the new board, who have expressed support for him and RCPD.
“So as long as we’re all in that same direction, which I am confident and I know that we are, we will figure out whatever priorities that are faced that we’re going to be dealing with from each group and make sure that we meet and we find ways to make them and to attain them,” he said.
By statute, members are appointed every two years by the Manhattan City and Riley County Commissions to the governing board, with each rotating the number of elected members and citizen appointees. In the current two-year cycle, the city has two commissioner appointees (Wynn Butler and John Matta) and two citizen appointees (Kaleb James and Betty Mattingly-Ebert), while Riley County has a single commissioner (John Ford) and single citizen appointee (Pat Hudgins).
Peete was previously the chief of police in Montpelier, Vermont for more than two years, coming to Montpelier in June 2020, right after the high profile death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis, Minnesota police officers. Prior to that, he was police chief in Alamogordo, New Mexico, but resigned in 2019, according to the Alamogordo News, following a dispute with city officials, less than two years after being hired.
Peete outlined some of his priorities Friday, including how he intends to be tough on substance abuse and narcotics.
“Unfortunately some folks who are on it make some pretty bad decisions and there has to be accountability for those decisions. That has to be also tempered with the grace of understanding what those addiction issues are. But the folks who push the poison are, are the ones who, who are in my crosshairs,” he said.
Peete also promises vigilance in the areas of human trafficking and crimes against children, noting an extraordinarily soft point with protecting the most vulnerable citizens.
“I celebrate every victory that our officers are out there winning, even if they’re only bringing in a handful of things, because you know that one pill or that one bag, that one 8-ball could have meant the difference between life and death, that would’ve changed somebody’s life within the next few hours forever and change the life of a family forever. So I, I hold those things very sacred and, and those are extraordinarily high priorities for me,” he said.
As he learns more about RCPD and the region, he was intrigued by data released by department staff this month showing that Part I crimes, such as homicides, rapes, burglaries and aggravated assaults and batteries, were down 24% in 2022, compared to the five year average. Violent crimes saw a 15% decrease from the average and a nearly 26% decrease in property crime. Peete says it’s a culmination of the intelligence-led strategies the department utilizes.
“Sitting here and looking how this department has been operating, it has been doing a lot, a lot, with a lot less than other places,” he said.
Peete points to RCPD being well-below the national average of percentages of officers to citizens, including both civilian staff and corrections. He says it’s a testament to the officers going above and beyond to ensure a safe community, but questioned the sustainability of the department continuing with the status quo.
“My concern on that one is, are folks burning candles at both ends to make sure that our community is safe? Are they given the time they need to decompress and enjoy life with their families?”
Peete says he looks forward to working with the Law Board to ensure RCPD remains competitive in its ability to hire and recruit new officers.
Peete will speak at a town hall gathering at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Ogden Community Center.