ONTARIO — Law enforcement members of the California Highway Patrol, Garden Grove Police Department, King County Sheriff, and a former member of the Oakland Police Department were in Ontario on Monday to see the official ceremony for their friend and former colleague as he stepped into the highest rank of his career.
In addition, Hawthorne leaders, as well as his family members had traveled from California and other areas of the U.S. to witness the swearing in ceremony for Chief Steven Romero, the newest member of the Ontario Police Department.
In fact, there were so many out-of-town guests that it was standing room only as City Recorder Tori Barnett conducted the official swearing in. After introducing himself, the new chief stayed to get several variations of group photos with family members, those who had traveled to see him and some of the members of his new department.
“Today is a pretty special day for me and for the City of Ontario,” Romero said during his introduction. “I am grateful and humbled by the opportunity.”
He had the chance to speak with Cal Kunz, Ontario’s former police chief who left in January, and Romero said Kunz praised Ontario’s citizens and police department.
Romero also gave special recognition to Lt. Jason Cooper, who has been the interim chief since Kunz left.
“I commend you on the job you did the last six months — it is phenomenal,” Romero told Cooper.
Even after the ceremony, Romero said Cooper should be praised for his work.
Cooper said he was grateful to finally have a chief again, and that he was looking forward to working together.
“I’m blessed to have inherited that and to have come to a small community,” Romero said, explaining after the ceremony that Hawthorne was about the same geographic area as Ontario, but with a population of about 100,000 people.
“I’ve heard great things about my new police department — my new home,” he said, adding that he’s looking forward to making Ontario “the safest community in Oregon.”
Those who made the trip had nothing but good things to say about Ontario’s new police chief.
This included his partner of 24 years at Hawthorne Police Department, Joel Romero (who is unrelated).
“He has a great professional track record of civic engagement, and is a troubleshooter for a variety of tasks,” he said of his former partner. “The city of Ontario is definitely in good hands.”
In addition to networking with businesses and within the community, Joel Romero described the new chief as a “cops kind of guy.”
“Everyone here will look at him as someone to count on,” he said.
In addition to having a significant amount of civic knowledge, Steven Romero has a sworn following of mentees, his partner said.
His son, Nick Romero, also traveled from California to the ceremony.
He said he became interested in what his father did at about the age of 7, the first time his dad took him to the station.
“It was very family oriented, and he works with many of his best friends,” he said, adding that he liked getting to see the camaraderie between the officers and what they did for their community.
Out of high school, Nick Romero joined the U.S. Army, and when he completed four years later, he went on to become a police officer — that was six years ago. Like his father, Nick Romero started out working at Los Angeles Police Department, even working the same beat on the harbor division during his probation period just like his dad.
“He taught me the value of appreciation, hard work and helping others,” he said.
He admitted that it was hard to see his dad moving out of state.
“I am proud of him. His entire career he worked to become chief,” Nick said of his dad. “I’m sad to see him go, but happy he’s finally living out his dream.”
Dr. Martin R. Romero, who traveled from Michigan to see his brother on the day of his biggest career achievement, described the new chief as accomplished, laudable and hard working, as well as a good citizen who is committed to his community and his family.
Also attending the ceremony was Pat Donaldson, the director of the Chamber of Commerce in Hawthorne, California, the city for which Steven Romero has served on the police department since 1993, in which his more recent post was as watch commander over 90 officers and 40 civilian personnel.
Pat and her husband, Steve, spoke highly of Romero.
“There’s no one better, and nobody like him,” Pat Donaldson said.
She said Romero was a both a friend and a huge supporter of the Hawthorne community. He regularly helped out with charitable food drives on Thanksgiving and Christmas, using his own money to purchase 300 boxes of stuffing for those in need. In addition, she said, he would ensure the police officers were there to help pass out those food baskets, in order to help build good relationships with youth.
“We don’t want children to ever be afraid of police officers,” she said, adding that he worked hard at breaking down barriers that sometimes build up between youth growing up in at-risk homes and members of law enforcement.
“His best attribute is that he is a team builder,” Steve Donaldson said. “He is a genuine leader and a good man.”
‘Warm and loving’ community
The biggest reward from the assorted work he’s done in law enforcement over the years, Chief Romero said, is making relationships — and he’s made plenty of those already since he’s arrived. During his swearing in speech, he thanked several city leaders for their efforts in making him feel welcome, which included helping him unload his U-haul truck, working on his yard and also inviting he and his family to dinner.
Romero said his family also feels welcomed by the community.
“We love it,” he said. “The community is as warm and loving as any community can be — from day one to this moment.”
As he did in Hawthorne, Romero plans to reach across the aisle and forge partnerships with local entities, such as the Boys & Girls Club of the Western Treasure Valley.
In California, Romero coached high school wrestling for 25 years. And about 19 years ago, he started a private nonprofit club for wrestling students that is a youth development program. It incorporates wrestling and Judo and is a “pipeline to public safety careers,” he said.
Chief Romero is hopeful to bring his Cobra’s Wrestling and Development Club to the Ontario area, where he can focus on helping the vulnerable population of at-risk youth.
“I hope to add to the community,” he said.