Each Sunday we will feature a project going on within the city, happenings within a department or someone who works hard to provide services to the community.
This Sunday, we talk to Police Chief Mike Candiano on his first eight months on the job; the complications of COVID-19 and his goals for the future. Mike Candiano describes his first eight months on the job as Portage's police chief as "challenging."
"I thought I was going to ease my way in," he said, but two months into the job, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.
"So many things had to be reevaluated," said Candiano.
They had to decide what calls to handle in person; what could be handled on the telephone. Officers respond to 90-some calls a day. Most calls include a multi-officer response.It was a concern, said Candiano, that an officer could be exposed and bring the coronavirus back to the station.
"We had to completely rethink our response to limit potential exposure. The officers have been great. I'm really proud of them. Our officers have worked every day, 24 hours, every week through this pandemic," he said.
Despite the ever-changing situation, Candiano, a nearly 18-year veteran of the Portage department who served on patrol, as a school resource officer and patrol captain, said he has been able to initiate some of his short-term goals for the department.Candiano said he applied for the chief's position because he thought he had something to offer the department and had ideas to improve and enhance the department.
Candiano appointed a full-time public information officer charged with community outreach and managing the department's social media outlets.
That was important because of the pandemic, he said, when there was so much changing information to pass along as well as assist in community events such as birthday and school parades.
Candiano said a connection with the community is important to him and the department. They've begun posting monthly arrest and incident reports to let residents know what types of crimes are happening and by whom. Candiano said the data indicates nearly the majority of crimes committed in the city are committed by non-residents.He and the department also worked with organizers on the June 1 peaceful Black Lives Matter protest along Central Avenue.That has evolved into working with the newly formed Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Through Action committee.
"The Portage Police Department was happy to accept an invitation from the group and supports the work which has been done so far," said Candiano.
"Although there is more work to be done, we appreciate the opportunity to be involved. There have been many topics discussed including further transparency, more community involvement and engagement, increased training and how to pay for any new initiatives," he said.
Candiano said they will continue to work with I.D.E.A. or any other group of concerned citizens.Candiano said he also wants to increase training opportunities for the 67-member department, taking advantage of train the trainer opportunities and hosting training sessions for his and other departments at the Portage station.Candiano has also been working with building relationships with other departments.
"We are all trying to do the same work out there. It is important to have those relationships to bounce ideas off each other," he said, adding that relationship building benefited the city when neighboring departments assisted during the June 1 demonstration.
They've also been able to work with the Portage Township School Corporation and Porter County Sheriff's Department and will provide a full-time school resource officer at Portage High School once in-person classes begin. Portage officers will also continue to be part of the rotation of officers within other school buildings.
Continuing, Candiano said he wants to increase community outreach to provide more of a connection between the community and the department. While on the back burner because of the coronavirus, he'd like to see the department become more involved in neighborhood events.
He'd also like to form a group within the department which can intensively focus it's time on tackling immediate problems when they pop up, from burglaries to traffic concerns, working with residents to resolve problems and concerns.
"I want officers to have a more visible presence in the community and a greater ability to interact with residents," he said.
Other goals are to work on retention of officers with in the department; provide additional and continual training opportunities