Oakland appoints new police chief

John Peek has assumed the role of the chief of the Oakland Police Department following Steve Thomas’ retirement Jan. 3.


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There’s a new chief in town, and he’s a familiar face in Oakland. John Peek, previously the deputy chief of the Oakland Police Department, has been promoted to the top position.

He accepted the role vacated by former Chief Steve Thomas, who retired Friday, Jan. 3. Thomas served the town for nine years and retired after 40 years in law enforcement.

Peek said he is ready to continue making a difference in the small West Orange County municipality.

“Because Oakland is small, we can actually see the difference we are making,” Chief Peek said. “As opposed to my previous experiences, here in Oakland, you are able to see the positive effects and it is very self-satisfying.”

Peek was hired as a reserve officer with the Oakland Police Department in 2006 and has steadily climbed through the department’s ranks.

Raised in a military family, Peek set out on a similar path. He spent 20 years with the Apopka Police Department before being hired in 2006 as a reserve officer for the Oakland Police Department.

He took a brief leave and served one 10-month tour of duty with the U.S. Army, helping the Iraqi command staff set up its police departments.

Peek returned to Oakland in 2008 and knows this is where he is meant to serve.

“The environment is different,” he said. “The crime rate is low. The people are nice.”

Peek has seen 14 years of change in the town and in the department.

“I would say the highlight is seeing the police department change and grow,” he said. “The last few years the town has been very generous with equipment purchases. We’re getting up-to-date; I’m so grateful for that.”

In recent years, the police department has placed emphasis on professional development and community policing, as well.

Peek said hiring and retention remain the biggest challenges for the department.

“You’ve got to understand the personality of cops,” he said. “The young ones, they enjoy the challenge of field work. … We don’t have that. We are a quiet town.”

The Oakland Police Department once was a “revolving door,” he said.

“I would hire these people out of the academy, and they would stay 18 months or so,” Peek said. “It was costing the town $64,000 or $67,000 to hire and train.”

After Peek changed the hiring process, he said, the turnover rate decreased.

“What I started doing differently about three years ago, I prioritized with experienced officers,” he said. “These are guys who have worked the harshest police departments in the state.”

With an experienced police force behind him, Peek is eager to keep standards high and continue the programs started by Thomas, namely the senior citizen check program and the community policing concept.

He plans to continue the professional development of the officers so he can promote from within.

He also is making sure his officers have the crisis intervention team training necessary for de-escalating certain situations.

“In the old days, when dealing with people with mental health (issues) or people with distress, it was more violent, people went to jail, police officers didn’t know how to handle this,” Peek said. “Now, it’s talking them down so they don’t hurt themselves or anyone (and) getting them counseling help.”

He hopes his officers will strive to form relationships with Oakland’s churches and learn of the community’s needs, too.

“I am proud of the department we have now,” Peek said. “It’s the best group of men and women I’ve ever worked with. The community support is the best I’ve ever seen.

“I just feel very fortunate to be where I’m at,” he said. “I’m just excited to continue the growth here.”

 

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Amy Quesinberry

Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.

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