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Des Moines welcomes new police chief with open arms

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

Des Moines Police chief Roger Baker was sworn-in last Wednesday, bringing leadership, a morale boost and over 30 years of experience to the city’s Police Department.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to have him on board,” said city manager Tony Piasecki, extolling Baker’s management skills.

Police chaplain Lew Cox said Baker’s presence has helped boost the department’s morale, while detective George Jacobwitz said the department is “excited to have a new start and a new leader.”

The first order on Baker’s agenda was to get to know and speak with all his officers. Second, Baker said, is an “assessment of the department in the form of a strategic plan.”

And while it’s still too early for a final plan, Baker, former chief of the Anaheim (Calif.) Police, did say that Des Moines shares crime problems that are common with many other cities: Drugs and gang activity.

Baker said he is struck with his officers’ integrity.

“These people are very genuine. Very sincere and very caring,” Baker said. “I feel fortunate to have been selected to be their chief, and I look forward to working with them. The dedication I see here seems to be as strong as the dedication in Anaheim.”

Mayor Bob Sheckler, who was involved in the search for a new chief to replace Don Obermiller, who retired last June, said Baker’s interpersonal communication skills and leadership ability are probably what won him the job.

“As a matter of fact his first — and this is what he chose to do — task was to get out and meet the community, and the feedback has been very, very impressive,” Sheckler said. “He’s coming to us with a wealth of knowledge and wisdom and experience.”

City Councilwoman Susan White was also on the community panel that interviewed applicants.

“His expertise and warm personality is exactly what we were looking for,” White said. “Roger Baker will bring a wealth of ideas and experience to our community that will not only benefit Des Moines, but will benefit our region as a whole.”

And while Councilwoman Maggie Steenrod was not on the interview panel, she did have a chance to get to know Baker.

“I was and am impressed by him. More important, our police officers and staff in the department seem happy that he was selected and pleased with him,” Steenrod said. “To me, that speaks volumes.

“Our expectation is that his years of service in California and experience there will be a big asset, particularly in dealing with the gang-related violence which has plagued Des Moines in recent years.

City Parks and Recreation manager Patrice Thorell, who was also on the selection committee, cited Baker’s “incredible people skills. He’s very approachable, open and humble. You don’t get that with many chiefs –– from my experience, anyway.

“I think he’s going to bring a lot to all of the staff and city. He talks about a team approach to solving problems within the community. That’s what really excited me.“

She’s also hoping Baker will take some of his experience in working in the tourist-driven city of Anaheim and apply it to Des Moines.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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