New Toledo Safety Directors Look Ahead

Brian Byrd and Angel Tucker talk to City Paper

In December it was announced that former Toledo Fire Chief Brian Byrd would take over as the Safety Director of the city, with Oregon police officer Angel Tucker becoming Deputy Safety Director and Byrd’s second in command. Toledo City Paper had the chance to sit down with both men to discuss their new responsibilities and the challenges ahead as they work to serve a city where gun violence continues to escalate.

The opportunity to meet with Brian Byrd and Angel Tucker was both informative and enlightening. The two men were comfortable talking about the tasks before them. Although the responsibility and the needs are clear, the methods and the success are yet to be seen. 

The Mayor announced in mid-December a restructuring of the administration, creating a separate office for the Safety Director. In the past, no individuals with safety or law enforcement backgrounds held the position. Instead, the Safety Director has been an administrative post that oversaw both the Fire and Police Departments for the City. Now, as a separate office, the effort will be both to coordinate the efforts of Police and Fire individually as well as encouraging and planning for those Departments to work together to make Toledo’s citizens safer. 

“Now is the time where we want people with some of that institutional knowledge in these positions,” Byrd said. “To be able to work directly out there with the people who are trying to deal with this stuff. Because the last two years have just been off the charts.”

“Those challenges, I think it increased the need to have somebody in these positions who understood the challenges of the public safety forces,” Tucker said.

The task is daunting, with the highest gun violence rate in the state and statistically for our community in recent memory. In addition, the reliance on the Fire Division for non-traditional firefighter roles, including EMS runs, etc., weigh heavily on area personnel. JoJuan Armour, the commissioner of the Mayor’s Initiative to Reduce Gun Violence, will report directly to Byrd and Tucker. 

“The plan is to grow the program, which is why he’s reaching out on a city-wide basis,” Tucker said.

Byrd is a relaxed leader. His cell phone number has a different area code from those of Northwest Ohio, a testament to the fact that he had planned to retire from the Toledo Fire Department and move to a different state in 2018. However, prior to his move, he was selected as the Fire Chief and has served in that role for the last 3 and 1/2 years.

“Never anticipated that happening, that was nothing I really aspired to do, it just kind of happened. I’m grateful and blessed that it did, I think we made some positive changes,” Byrd said.

After announcing his departure from that role, he was approached by the Mayor’s Administration to begin anew as the Safety Director. Angel Tucker, a member of the Oregon Police Department over the past 10 years, is also an individual who is comfortable with himself and exudes a warmth and compassion when speaking with others. His effort to explain the level of difficulties that lead to the problems that we see in inner city neighborhoods and with area youth is evident.

“We’re both from the central city of Toledo. It’s where we grew up, we have relationships in those communities, even in the positions we were in— me as the fire chief, and Angel as an Oregon police officer— we were still very active in those communities,” Byrd said. “So I think we have a unique opportunity to forge some better relationships in that community.”

In discussing the issues that present themselves and in fact plague our community, both men were clearly aware of the depth and complexity that leads to these problems. The factors of education, socialization, household makeup and behaviors all are part of the equation and must be included in reaching a solution. This is not something that can simply be solved in a short period of time, rather, we are in a time where generational issues must be addressed in order to lead to greater understanding between factions of our larger community. 

“If we’re going to tell people to put a gun down, or to do something different, we have to have something that will fill that void. Whether it’s through job training and job placement, mental health awareness, emotional stability, financial stability— it’s going to take a lot,” said Tucker.

Despite the daunting task before them, Byrd and Tucker are ready for the challenge. Their conversation indicates their comfort with each other and they’re clear understanding that this is not a role that will play itself out easily or be readily defined. Instead, it is a role that will need to be written as they move forward. “We will not be sitting behind a desk,” explained Byrd, “rather we will be out in the community and working with a variety of different individuals and factions.” They both cite successful programs within the City that for a variety of reasons, including lack of funding, lack of consistency, and other issues, despite their success, have not become as robust as they could be. 

Make no doubt about it, a community-wide effort will be required. With members from each level of our society working together to overcome the disparities in income, education, and the systemic lack of opportunity that has befallen many. As well, the efforts by Toledo Public Schools to encourage and provide confidence along with education for our youth, led by superintendent Romules Durant, is not enough. Instead, it will take community involvement on a higher and more consistent level to make this work.

“People need to feel connected to it, or feel like they can be connected to it, and be a part of it that makes some positive changes,” Byrd said. “I tell people, if you’re going to complain about something, don’t complain from the cheap seats. Get down on the field and play, at least get down on the field and hand the water to somebody, so you know who’s holding the playbook. If you’re going to sit up there and complain, it does no good. Be a part of the solution.”

We all live here in Northwest Ohio and each of us is building our future here everyday. In order to address our future, we necessarily must address the futures of others in our community, especially those who are less fortunate and who are born into a life that lacks opportunity. Accordingly, each of us is responsible for raising up our community members and, with leaders like Byrd and Tucker, that task will be more well defined and could be achievable.