PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Mayor Brett Smiley has picked Oscar Perez to be the next Providence police chief, elevating a 29-year veteran of the force and the first person of color to the job.
Perez, who recently became deputy chief and now will be elevated to the rank of colonel, was one of three finalists for the position, all of whom are existing members of the department’s command staff.
The other two finalists were Majors David Lapatin and Kevin Lanni. The three men participated in a public forum Wednesday night, sharing their thoughts on police brutality, gun violence and community policing.
Perez, 52, will be the first Latino chief in a city that is majority people of color and 43% Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census.
“It is definitely a historic moment, a proud moment,” Perez said at a news conference Friday morning. “It’s a way to tell my community and the young kids out there that you can be here as well.”
“I think that is something to be celebrated, and a testament to both his incredible hard work and the community at large and their incredible contributions to our city,” Smiley said.
WATCH: Providence police chief announcement (story continues below)
Perez has been serving as acting chief for two weeks, following the departure of Col. Hugh Clements, who took a job at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
He grew up in Providence after immigrating from Colombia at the age of 13, attending Providence schools and graduating from Central High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree i from Roger Williams University and a master’s from Boston University, both in criminal justice. He has also undergone specialized trainings at the FBI academy, Harvard Kennedy School of Government and others.
A Providence police officer since 1994, Perez was promoted to sergeant in 2005 and has worked his way up the ranks. He currently lives in North Providence.
“I was blessed with the opportunity as a teenager to come to this beautiful country,” Perez said. “And with the opportunity to grow up in this community. And to ultimately join the ranks of this professional organization.”
At the forum Wednesday night, Perez spoke about building trust in the community, and condemned the Memphis officers who have been charged in the recent high-profile beating death of Tyre Nichols. He said in Providence, he would hold officers accountable for the “duty to intervene,” and would seek to recruit quality officers over quantity.
Watch: Law enforcement analyst discusses Perez promotion (story continues below)
City Councilman Pedro Espinal, who grew up with Perez in South Providence, got emotional watching Perez be named the new chief.
He says he’s known Perez since the 1980s when they met at a South side boxing club, and the two have been friends ever since.
“We made history today, it’s the right choice,” Espinal said. “A South side product for the entire city. Someone that’s ready to lead.”
Smiley said Perez becomes chief immediately, though a swearing-in ceremony will be scheduled at a later date.
Perez will also be tasked with naming his replacement as deputy chief, though Smiley said he will weigh in on the appointment.
It is not yet clear if the city will have a public safety commissioner, a position above the police chief that oversees both the police and fire departments that was previously held by Steven Paré. Smiley, who is serving as acting public safety commissioner, said he has not yet made a decision about whether to fill that job.