TOLEDO, Ohio — By the middle of February, Toledo's going to have itself a new team tasked with tackling some of its biggest problems: gun violence, school safety and emergency preparedness. It sounds daunting, and the team made up of former Toledo Fire Chief, Brian Byrd, and former Oregon Police officer, Angel Tucker, know that. Case in point - there have been 67 homicides in Toledo this year, and the year's not over yet. Plus, it's not until February when Byrd takes over as Toledo Safety Director. But, he is promising change.
“I'm from that community - that's being primarily hit by it,” says Byrd. “That's where I grew up - that's where I'm from. I've been on the fire side ... this is a way to make a difference on a different type of level."
Byrd won't be alone. He and Tucker will head up the department, and Tucker says Toledo's neighborhoods have been neglected and they need to figure out why.
"What are the systemic issues that even brought us to this position?” questions Deputy Safety Director Angel Tucker who starts in January. “How did we get so badly damaged with our relationships with the communities? What led to that? How long has it been going on?”
Earlier this year, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz established the Mayor's Initiative on Reducing Gun Violence naming JoJuan Armour as commissioner of that effort. Violence interrupters were hired to go into one community - the Inglewood-Junction community, make connections, and be a bridge, hopefully stopping violence before it starts. And Byrd believes it's working. But, starting next year that effort falls under their watch, along with the police and fire departments.
Byrd says, "We're in a unique position here where we can create this position to look like something it's never been before - and that's our intention. We want to be visible in the community - we want to be visible with the public safety forces that we're responsible for. We need to support them - and we need to support the community and bring them all together."
But, Byrd and Tucker say there's other stuff on their plate in 2022, specifically, school safety. Byrd says he wants to re-establish shooter training like they did in 2019 at Waite High School.
We also talked about the shooting death of Officer Brandon Stalker and the shooter Christopher Harris. Harris' family said he had mental health issues. It’s an issue that doesn't get enough attention and Byrd says it needs to be addressed.
“PTSD comes in all forms,” says Byrd. ”There's PTSD experienced by people in the community based on historical things that put them in the situations that they're in now. That's part of the uncomfortable conversation that people don't want to have."
Ultimately, the pair says the job will be much bigger than just the two of them, saying they need a city and community buy-in.
"We kind of look at it as an opportunity to heal together,” says Tucker. “A teachable moment, that way our measure on it, is more so about coming together, than it is win or lose."
Byrd says he wants to take a page from his time leading the Fire Department - stressing community engagement.
He says being visible, and both actively and passively recruiting the community led to that buy-in, and ultimately, he says, one of TFD's most diverse classes ever.