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The Leadership Beat: ‘We are developing a public servant guardian mindset’

Chief Tom Wetzel discusses the importance of fostering a servant guardian mindset, value-based behaviors and collaborative decision-making


Photo.Chief Tom Wetzel

The following content is part of a new Police1 initiative – the Police Leader Playbook – aimed at helping new law enforcement leaders move beyond basic management and supervision skills and become inspirational leaders with integrity and passion. Through a handful of questions presented by Police1, veteran leaders reflect on their early days in leadership roles and offer advice, while newer leaders detail their experiences taking on a new position. Email to offer your insights for the Police Leader Playbook.

Chief Tom Wetzel was sworn in as interim chief of the University Circle Police Department located in Cleveland, Ohio, on June 7, 2023. The department currently has 23 officers, 4 dispatchers and one executive assistant and serves about 8,000 residents and about 50,000 people who work in the location daily, as well as 15,000 students during the school year. University Circle is a district in the neighborhood of University on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio. In 2021, USA Today ranked University Circle as the “Best Arts District” in America.

Chief Tom Wetzel.jpg

Chief Tom Wetzel

What was the incident or person in your career who put you on the path to becoming a chief?
I cannot attribute my journey to becoming a chief to a specific person or event. It was more of a cumulative process, shaped by observing incidents and the actions and behaviors of chiefs I served under, as well as those from other agencies. These experiences fueled my inspiration and desire to serve others as a chief. I discerned what strategies were effective and which were not, and also gained an understanding of how their decisions and actions personally affected me.

What do you (or did you) want to accomplish, improve, or make better in your first 30 days as chief, 6 months as chief and year as chief?
My first opportunity as a police chief was in 2018 when I served the Richmond Heights Division of Police in Ohio. After spending 31 years at the Beachwood Police Department, this was a particularly special opportunity as I had grown up in Richmond Heights and still have family there. Also, prior to becoming a police officer in Beachwood, I worked for two years as a police dispatcher for the Richmond Heights Police Department.

It was critical to set an early tone so that the staff would recognize they had a leader with a servant’s heart. At our first department meeting, I made a point of saying that I was “serving them” and not the other way around. Within a short amount of time, we developed a mission statement of “Striving to become the Gold Standard of American Policing” and eventually succeeded in that visionary goal. Our new mission statement became “Delivering the Gold Standard of Policing.”

At my new department at the University Circle Police Department (I started May 22 and was sworn in as interim chief on June 7, 2023), I put together a comprehensive 90-day plan that has 41 initiatives. I am happy to report at the end of the 90 days, we had completed or begun work on ALL of those initiatives.

I have now developed a 180-day plan consisting of the following:

  • Regular reinforcement of our vision of “Aspiring to become an elite police institution and national model of excellence.”
  • Continue to build bridges of trust with those we serve through innovative approaches and a strong commitment to the principles of community policing.
  • Strong and consistent efforts to address officer safety and wellness.
  • Strong focus on training and the self-actualization of all police personnel.
  • Strengthen our roster and work to build on diversity within our agency in part through effective recruitment.
  • Develop further crime prevention initiatives.
  • Continue to search for strategies to improve our overall service model through a servant’s heart culture.
  • Develop new solutions and strategies to help solve crimes.
  • Strong youth outreach. Develop initiatives to create generational relationships.
  • Emphasis on responsible budget practices, spending and financial planning and a stronger focus on grant opportunities.
  • Strengthen collaboration with our regional safety partners and UCI Institutions.
  • Work toward the development of a regional social worker co-responder unit.
  • Continue to evaluate traffic enforcement models and practices. Monitor personnel performance to prevent any misuse or bias-based policing for traffic or criminal code enforcement.
  • Work to streamline operations and eliminate unproductive practices.

I believe it is critical for police executives to develop a vision that can be incorporated into nearly all aspects of the operations. This vision should be interwoven into the very fabric of an agency.

How are you creating an organizational culture people want to be a part of?
We have developed a vision of “becoming an elite police institution and national model of excellence.” I believe that police officers need to think big about what they are doing and help their agency become its best version of itself. Officers are standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before them and have an opportunity to build off those sacrifices and contributions. They must never lose sight of the critical role they play in the life and vibrancy of the communities they serve.

We are developing a culture with a public servant guardian mindset and working to build bridges of trust with those we serve as we develop generational relationships with our customers. To truly have safe neighborhoods where people can live and thrive, we MUST have a symbiotic relationship between the server and the served.

Our organizational culture is strong on the principles of community policing. I hope to have an empathetic model of policing in place soon, which is like community policing to the nth degree (community policing on steroids so to speak). It is a model of policing where officers can seamlessly blend the hard aspects of the profession, such as use of force and pursuits, with the gentle ones that are the majority of what we do such as report writing, investigations, assisting disabled motorists, and finding lost children or adults. These types of officers have a servant’s heart mentality and a deep respect for the rule of law and in particular, balancing the spirit of the law with the letter of the law.

When it comes to discipline and motivation, we are developing an organizational culture that strives to have “inspired and accountable” personnel. When this is achieved, an agency can have good morale, strong esprit de corps, high productivity, and healthy cops and dispatchers.

I believe we’re establishing an environment that has the potential to serve as a blueprint for organizations across the nation.


The University Circle Police Department places a strong focus on community policing. Here the agency’s new therapy dog meets with a young member of the community.

Photo/Chief Tom Wetzel

What’s your process for making major decisions?
Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. I value the input and involvement of those I work with, making sure they play a crucial role in the decision-making process, as the outcomes directly impact their work, attitude and safety. As police chiefs, we are privileged to access an immense cache of knowledge and insight from those we work alongside. Regrettably, this vast resource often goes untapped, leading to missed opportunities. I thoroughly enjoy empowering our team members with the necessary independence and creative freedom to achieve great things, given the chance. I have seen what they can do, and it is quite impressive.

How do you show your personnel you are leading with value-based behaviors?
This is an opportunity that unfolds every day, with every single interaction. By consistently engaging on a personal level and repeatedly emphasizing these values, a chief can establish the standard and become a role model, especially for aspiring managers and leaders. Moreover, it’s essential to regularly express gratitude to those who embody these crucial values.

When I was at Richmond Heights, my council reports were opportunities for our political leaders to learn about all the good our personnel were doing on a regular basis. I would also have personnel recognized for different accomplishments and they and family members would show up at council meetings. This gave our politicians a chance to put a face to the name and develop a personal relationship with the officer or dispatcher. Such familiarity can prove pivotal. If a council member encounters negative information, they might be more inclined to hesitate and refrain from making hasty judgments, as the story doesn’t align with the persona they’ve gotten to know.This was invaluable in my eyes.

Leadership lightning round

What is a leadership book, podcast, or seminar you’ve found invaluable?

The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership” by James Hunter.

How do you organize your schedule and stay on schedule?

A tight calendar that I monitor regularly and a pedal-to-the-metal mindset while working. I love “cleaning my plate” so to speak and don’t like letting things sit too long.

If you knew the budget request would be approved, what’s a big purchase you’d make for your department today?

Officer wellness opportunities and training equipment.

What is one way leaders can show they care about their people?

Through having a servant’s heart mindset. Letting them know it is you who is serving them despite a rank difference.

At the end of the workday, how do you recharge?

Exercise and ironically, continue to stay busy.


Hosting community events is a key part of Chief Wetzel’s strategy to connect cops with the people they serve.

READ NEXT: The Leadership Beat: ‘I aim to empower staff to have a seat at the table or take the lead on projects.’ Chief Schenita Stewart shares her key strategies to build employee morale through servant leadership.

Access more Leadership Beat interviews here.