Salem’s new police chief will focus on relationships and numbers

Trevor Womack and his wife, Christina. (Courtesy/ Trevor Womack)

As Trevor Womack prepares to take over as Salem’s next police chief on Dec. 7, he said the first thing he’ll do is listen.

Womack was hired to replace retiring Police Chief Jerry Moore following an interview on Oct. 30 by a recruitment firm with the two finalists for the job that was broadcast on YouTube.

The law enforcement veteran with 28 years of experience is leaving behind his job as deputy chief police chief of Stockton, California, the city where he grew up and spent the entirety of his career.  

When he takes over from Moore, who served for more than 40 years, Womack will be top cop for a city different in some key ways from the one he’s spent his career in. In an interview with Salem Reporter, Womack said he’ll use the same data-driven approach he took in Stockton while trying to build relationships within the community. While he’s already aware of some problems to address, he said community-police relationships are already strong.

“From what I can tell there’s a really good relationship with the community. I’m not walking into a situation that has a lot of problems or issues,” he said.

Stockton, less than an hour south of Sacramento in California’s Central Valley, is larger than Salem by about 138,000 people and where whites account for 44% of its population, Hispanics or Latinos 42% and Blacks 12%. The city has a history of violence and last year reported 39 homicides to Salem’s six. In 2018, the crime rate in Stockton was twice the national average.

City leaders cut the police department’s budget by $14 million in 2012 following a bankruptcy, reducing the number of officers by a quarter. Despite the cuts to the force, Stockton has seen a reduction in crime in recent years.

Womack takes over the Salem Police Department with a $48.9 million budget and 241 employees, including 189 sworn officers. By comparison, Stockton has 400 sworn officers.

Among the concerns Womack has for Salem are gun violence, the police’s handling of racial justice protests and calls to eliminate the school resource officer program.

In his cover letter applying for the job, Womack cited his involvement in the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, which was an effort to “promote changes in law enforcement culture, policies, and practices to enhance respectful policing and improve police-community relationships.”

Womack said the Stockton police held more than 20 listening sessions from 2016 to 2018, focusing on the role of community organizations, group violence intervention, LGBTQ issues, racial and ethnic communities, in addition to youth.

At a time when police-community relations have been strained across the country, he said the listening sessions repaired the police department’s relationship with the public.

Those events captured narratives from residents about their dealings with police, like how they’re treated during traffic stops, Womack said. Police department leaders heard about “issues that really cause the community to think badly of law enforcement,” he said.

Womack also pointed to how Stockton police under his leadership used data to identify problem. He said the Stockton department analyzed two years of homicide data related to gun violence, finding that at least 65% of the cases were linked to group violence.

He said the research identified young men of color that had an average of eight contacts with the criminal justice system as being involved in those cases.

Womack said after collecting data, police could identify the source of gun violence and more effectively work to reduce it. He said that approach has proven successful and crime rates are down in the city.

But he said his approach is not about over reliance on arrests.

In Stockton, he said the police department worked with violence intervention workers, community service providers and clergy members to share information about youth they considered high risk for committing crimes and strategized about how to address the problems they were seeing.

Womack said such a data-driven approach to zeroing in on real community problems is one of two pillars he leans on in his policing.

The other pillar is building rapport within the community. He doesn’t sense a big task ahead of him in Salem.

Womack followed in his father’s footsteps when choosing his career. His dad retired from the Stockton Police Department as a captain after 30 years in law enforcement.

He said the most valuable police officers and ones who are home grown and have a heart for public service.

“That’s a perfect scenario for me,” he said.

Womack said he’s spoken to people who feel threatened by the presence of armed groups in Salem, specifically mentioning an incident in Bush’s Pasture Park where Proud Boys roamed the city park with weapons while drinking.

“Obviously armed groups are intimidating,” he said.

Womack said his experience in California is different because the state doesn’t allow citizens to openly carry guns in public.

But he said armed groups are something the police department needs to make sure it’s paying attention to.

Womack said it’s important to balance people’s First and Second Amendment rights.

“Once you decide enforcement action, very often things elevate,” he said. 

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Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.