New police chief maintains teamwork approach with officers, employees

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Norman Police Chief Kevin Foster sits at his desk Tuesday. Foster joined the Norman Police Department in 1989 and toke over as chief on Nov. 1, 2019.

When Kevin Foster joined the Norman Police Department in 1989, he had no thoughts of being named chief and commanding one of the largest law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma.

But that was 30 years ago. Now, Foster sits in the police chief's chair every day making decisions that affect 185 sworn officers as they enforce the laws of the land. But make no mistake, Foster doesn't hide in his office and allow only the patrol officers to have all the fun.

Surprisingly, he will don the police officer's uniform, jump in a patrol car and get busy on the street for a full shift. Sometimes that means issuing traffic citations or being first on the scene for a burglary. As far as Foster is concerned, working a patrol shift keeps him grounded and in tune with his officers.

Plus, he says, patrol officers are the ones who make a difference for Norman citizens. They are the proverbial boots on the ground, he said.

"When you're an officer, you're doing the law enforcement work," he said. "When I'm on the street, I'm seeing the impact of getting a burglar in the house or in a car.

Because of his experience on the streets and throughout the ranks, Foster maintains an open door policy for any agency employee who has concerns.

"I want to know what they see as the issues," he said. "When I hear about these things it allows me the ability to address it. I trust them all and think they're awesome."

But the reality is that Foster must deal primarily with high-level decisions that allow the department to function at its best, a lot of paperwork and the politics of city government, which can often be distracting from law enforcement's duty to protect and serve.

"I hope I'm able to give them [police department] the tools and resources they need to do the job," he said. "Part of what I do is make strategic plans, goals and actionable items. It holds me accountable for what I said we would do."

But on Sept. 18, 1989, sitting in the police chief's chair was the "furtherest thing" from Foster's mind. That was the day he started at the Norman department.

"When I was doing police work in the 1980s, we did small things that weren't even law enforcement related," he recalled. "Today, we're expected to provide services that are connected to quality of life."

After about seven years of working the streets, Foster started filling out the paperwork for promotions and was rewarded several times. But on Nov. 1 of last year, Foster said he was "surprised and honored" at being selected as Norman's police chief "considering the quality of people who applied."

Foster understands as well as anyone the expectations of Norman residents, City Manager Darrel Pyle and the city council. He's especially busy on city council meeting nights when questions are asked and answers must be given. It's the behind-the-scenes paperwork and meetings the public doesn't see, but is vital to the continued protect and serve motto of the police department.

And, on occasions, an officer's service isn't good enough. Sometimes, Foster said, people involved in disputes want immediate results.

"In today's world, people want things done now, but we have to follow the law ourselves. I think our department does an outstanding job of reaching out to the community, even those who may not have a voice," he said. "There are people who are voters, people who are engaged [in the community], not engaged and undocumented residents. We serve everyone equally."

Foster's experience and journey up the ranks helps him deal with the needs of Norman and the police department employees. He's held every rank in the department and was named Officer of the Year in 1997 after being promoted to master police officer. He worked as a major for eight years before being named interim police chief in April 2019. He officially took the reins as police chief Nov. 1, 2019.

Foster has worked in every area of the department, including support bureau, patrol division, criminal investigations and professional standards. He has more than 19 years of executive command and supervisory experience, which is a benefit now that he sits in the chief's seat.

"As the chief, everybody expects you to know everything that's going on," he said. "Sometimes, I just have to tell them I don't know and I'll have to get back to them."

As police chief, Foster is always happy to report that major crime was down in 2019 compared to the crime stats from a year earlier. He's also reported that fatality accidents dropped, but the total number of vehicle accidents in Norman increased. The accident issue, he said, is being addressed with education, engineering and enforcement.

Although Foster has a lot of good information for Norman residents to hear, he's not oblivious that the city is a breeding ground for gangs and drugs, including the MMG and Irish Mob. Some MMG members have pending cases in Cleveland County District Court.

"They [gangs] are not as engrossed as in Oklahoma City, but we do have them here," he said. "We work with our federal and state partners to address the larger picture. We work to take out key figures to cause them to fall apart."

Although he can't comment about ongoing investigations, the goal of the police department's gang unit is to "build a case that addresses as many gang members as possible and disrupt their operation enough so they go away," Foster said.

The drug and gang investigations are time-consuming and often don't bear the fruit law enforcement wants as quickly as they want, but Foster and his detectives know a thorough and exhaustive probe is one that prosecutors will be able to successfully prove in court.

"We want the attorneys to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. "So, it [investigation] doesn't all happen at once."

Currently, the police department is undergoing a decentralization plan that places different parts of the agency in different places throughout Norman. For instance, construction on a new communications and emergency operations center will begin in March or April at a cost of $6.5 million. The center will be built along W. Robinson Street.

Still, other divisions are scattered. The main department is located off Gray Street while the investigations center is located on Lindsey Street. Meanwhile, animal control and the police academy are situation in south Norman.

Aside from his law enforcement duties, Foster remains involved in the community by serving as a board member for various agencies and groups, including Meals on Wheels of Norman. He also participates in the Norman Lions Club and the Boy Scouts of America.

Foster has been married for 32 years to wife Kelly. They have one son.

Tim Farley

366-3539

tfarley@normantranscript.com

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