Edmond ‘Chief’ Leads by Example
FBI, DEA, DPS. Despite the looming acronyms behind his name, a single fact stood out about Bob A. Ricks: Edmond’s police chief was running late. Fifteen minutes past the scheduled interview time, an apologetic Ricks introduced himself with the kind of friendly ease more akin to a good neighbor than a former federal agent.
In an era marked by popular mistrust of government officials, an hour with Ricks could change citizens’ minds about the current state of affairs, given his sincerity and practical solutions for Edmond. The affable sixty-something officer excused that afternoon’s tardiness by explaining he’d taken time aside to personally offer encouragement and career counseling to one of the hundred and forty-one employees he supervises before heading out of the office.
“I like to see people grow and improve and do things they didn’t think they could,” said Ricks.
A west Texas native, Ricks had always been interested in public administration, but the politics and controversy surrounding the Vietnam War served as deciding factors that sealed his commitment.
“I wanted to be able to answer my children someday when they asked, ‘Daddy, what did you do about that?’” he said.
Ricks was taking the bar exam at Baylor when a friend called to say the FBI had accepted him. What was supposed to be a three-year contract stretched across three decades, despite alluring offers to join colleagues in private law firms, complete with expense accounts and country club memberships.
Several years and various Washington-based federal agencies later, former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating appointed him Cabinet Secretary for Safety and Security and Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety in 1995, which meant handling the aftermath and subsequent investigation of the Alfred P. Murrah building bombing. He describes the bombing as the most far-reaching and important event of his career, which frequently makes him the subject of documentaries and press conferences. In 2001, Ricks was given additional responsibility for Homeland Security by Governor Keating.
Rick’s relaxed face turned solemn as he mentioned Timothy McVeigh and the quest for justice. He continues to organize records for the historical preservation of what forced Oklahoma into the media spotlight before “terrorism” was a household topic.
Meanwhile, the Edmond Police Department was struggling and grievance reports by officers and personnel. Change was in order, and after eight years of cutting bureaucracy, Ricks was the man to make it happen.
Glynda Chu, departmental Public Information Officer, said coworkers were intimidated by Ricks’s expertise when he assumed the position in 2003, but he immediately quelled concerns with open-discussion policy.
“I prefer a good argument, probably something to do with that law school training,” said Ricks with a laugh.
Chu confirms that “every employee has a voice,” and she urged the man she informally calls “Chief” to mention the department’s guidelines for the Leadership Team, which he instituted as a way to improve communication among law enforcement.
“We say that all rank goes off their collars when they go into a meeting. They can argue, even with a captain or someone far superior in rank or experience. What’s mentioned there couldn’t be said anywhere else,” said Ricks.
Improved technology, including digital cameras and GPS systems in patrol cars, and equipping officers with less lethal firearms, also tops the list of improvements. The department gets by with minimal support staff.
The department’s new mission statement, “Trustworthy police service in partnership with the community,” reflects its goal to make Edmond Police a visible presence in Oklahoma’s sixth largest city, a surprising fact given its hometown feel. Improved call response time has surpassed Ricks’s 3-minute objective, and recruits are held to the highest standards in the state. Over half of new recruits in Edmond are turned down, even after a month of academy training and completion of the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) program.
There is no typical day for Ricks, who subjects himself to the same training expected of all officers, including physical exertion, shooting accuracy, and the occasional ride-along, in addition to balancing meetings, the media, and major decisions.
Ricks raised the subject of retirement with a shrug.
“I’m still excited about getting up and going to work. My intention is to serve here for as long as I believe that I’m making a difference for the department,” he said.
Ricks and his wife, Janis, are active in the community, serving on the board for the Special Needs Adult Community, where they participate with a coalition of local churches to discuss long-term care and housing options for disabled individuals.
The couple attends Henderson Hills Baptist Church, where Bob teaches 12th grade Sunday School. They have two grown children, a daughter who lives in Edmond, a son in Texas, and five young grandchildren who visit frequently.