COLUMBUS, Ohio — After being named the city of Columbus’ director of Public Safety, Robert Clark said he never saw himself becoming a public servant. 

What You Need To Know

  • Robert Clark was appointed the new director of public safety in Columbus

  • He has served in law enforcement for 35 years

  • The city of Columbus is scheduled to hire almost 300 new fire and police personnel

  • He is working with the Columbus Chief of Police, the mayor, and city council to address the rise in crime

  • He is hoping to provide more mentorship and training in the CPD and CFD

“I grew up in a time and a system where it was very difficult to trust authority,” said Clark, who grew up in Youngstown, Ohio. 

He lost his father to gun violence at 13 and was in and out of foster care throughout his childhood. His father’s murder was never solved and he experienced levels of neglect and abuse through his adolescent years in the foster care system. The adversity he faced pushed him to become the change he wanted to see. 

“I didn’t recognize that I would one day be serving in a position of authority,” said Clark. “God just has a funny way of putting the right people in the right places at the right time to ultimately do the right things in accordance with his will.” 

He began his career with the Youngstown Police Department where he served as a vice and narcotics officer for the Special Investigation Unit. He has taken his service both nationally and internationally. He became the assistant special agent in charge for the U.S. Department of Justice field office in Los Angeles. Clark spearheaded programs like Operation SOS (Save Our Streets) to address and solve gang-related homicides, cold cases and violent crimes. 

He also served as the senior superintendent for the Trinidad and Tobago police service. He has gained 35 years of experience in law enforcement and now finds himself as the new public safety director for the city of Columbus, where he plans to establish a new definition of public safety. 

“We recognize that we’re in an era where it has to be an organic engagement,” said Clark. “We just can’t sit in our offices and allow things to happen as they have in the past.” 

Columbus has been one of many cities that has seen countless protests demanding more transparency and enhanced training from the police force. Ginther’s proposed 2022 budget allocated $660 million to public safety. Clark says some of this money will go toward new recruits. The city is scheduled to hire 170 new police officers and 125 new firefighters. 

Training was another concern Clark addressed. He believes under the new era of public service training, mentorship and accountability need to work hand-in-hand. 

“We can bring in these elements that are really required for our personnel to graduate in several months and then come back out here in the streets to be able to now act in a manner that is consistent to where we are now, not where we were 10 years ago, not where we were 20 years ago, but where we are today,” said Clark. 

Money will be allocated to offer incentives to provide additional training for field training officers. He also hopes additional programs, like alternative response policing, will help provide a wider range of services to the community.  

“We’re also in the process of developing what we’re calling alternative response policing where we can evaluate these calls that come into our call center with mental health professionals to determine if this call, does this caller need intervention with a mental health professional,” said Clark. 

Clark replaced Ned Pettus, who retired in July. Clark was appointed Columbus’ new public safety director in September and has made crime and gun violence one of his top priorities. Police data has shown that as of October, the homicide rate for Columbus has increased 63%. 

“We’ve got to do something about the crime in the city,” said Clark. “It can not be a normalized feeling for us to lose our children and lose our young people in our communities to this rampant violence that's taking place.”

He’s worked with police chief Elaine Bryant, the Columbus City Council and Mayor Ginther on rolling out the Comprehensive Neighborhood Safety Strategy 2.0. The strategy outlines collaborations between public safety and community organizations. TAPS is one of the key programs in the plan and allows for at-risk teens to be mentored and guided by police officers. Clark says he hopes this strategy will help all central Ohioans feel better about calling Columbus home. 

“I’m hoping to have a conversation a year from now, not just the reduction of crime statistics but also the increase of quality of life and the impact that we are bringing all of our resources and all of our programming together,” said Clark.