Oneonta native takes helm as OPD chief

Julie Lewis | The Daily Star

Oneonta Police Chief Douglas W. Brenner stands in front of the public safety building on Main Street on Wednesday.

ONEONTA — The Oneonta Police Department will continue reaching out to the community as officers aggressively fight crime and protect and help people, according to newly appointed Chief Douglas W. Brenner.

On Wednesday night, the Common Council appointed Brenner as police chief, effective Thursday, July 6, at an annual base pay of $90,000. The Council welcomed Brenner with “congratulations” and applause. He will be sworn in at City Hall at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Mayor Gary Herzig said he was proud to recommend Brenner after interviewing three candidates for the position. Herzig said the most important job of local government is public safety, and Brenner is the right person for the job because his community policing philosophy is the best approach for the city.

The city has about 14,000 residents and is home to the State University College at Oneonta and the private Hartwick College, as well as medical services and many varied businesses.

Brenner, an Oneonta native who said his interest in police work dates back to his boyhood, has years of experience in various law enforcement roles with the city and county.

Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. said Brenner has been an “excellent lieutenant” for the Oneonta Police Department. Brenner has done an outstanding job in community policing, according to Devlin, who said that approach is particularly important in a college town.

“The city made an appropriate choice,” Devlin said about Brenner's appointment. “We look forward to continuing to work with him.”

Brenner was appointed acting chief in January, the same month that former Chief Dennis Nayor retired after more than 21 years with the department. Nayor, who left to become director of research, development and training with the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, backed Brenner's interest in becoming chief.

The Oneonta police union has been “100 percent in full support” of Brenner since Nayor's departure, said Brian Cetnar, vice president of the Police Benevolent Association.

“He's well-respected by all of us,” said Cetnar, who attended the Council meeting Wednesday night to witness Brenner's appointment.

The Oneonta Police Department is authorized to have 25 officers, including the chief, lieutenant, three detectives, five sergeants and 15 officers.

During an interview with The Daily Star in his office in the Public Safety Building on Wednesday, Brenner discussed plans for the department.

The OPD will “keep a good solid aggressive enforcement” against crime, the chief said.

Oneonta has crime problems typical for a city its size, Brenner said, such as incidents related to drug use, including the opioid epidemic, and to economic difficulties. With the presence of college students, Oneonta also has related quality-of-life issues, such as noise problems, littering and public urination, he said.

Brenner said Nayor left the department in a position of strength that will be continued and enhanced. Maintaining high standards for hiring officers, rooted in Nayor's tenure, will continue, Brenner said, and technological advancements will be added to policing methods.

However, technology won't detract from the ongoing outreach of officers to interact with residents and civic groups, he said. Efforts will continue to build on existing good collaborative relationships with organizations such as LEAF Council on Alcoholism and Addictions, Brenner said.

“It's a two-way street,” he said, noting that the approach combines enforcement with meeting human needs.

“Oneonta really is a good community,” Brenner said. “It has a small-town feel but it's really not that small.”

Brenner said the Oneonta Police Department has officers who are good at their jobs and who like to help people. The department has two police officer openings, Brenner said, and other changes will develop after a lieutenant is hired.

“The hiring process is always going on,” Brenner said. The department has training resources, according to Brenner, who said he wants to increase sensitivity training to enhance officers' skills to communicate and interact with people.

Brenner said he looks forward to being chief full time. Since January, he also has been serving as lieutenant, and he said steps to fill that position will be taken soon.

Detective Sgt. Christopher Witzenburg is the lead senior sergeant to become OPD lieutenant, said Brenner, and he would like to appoint Witzenburg provisionally. The civil service examination for lieutenant is in October, according to Brenner, who said will check with the mayor and personnel director about appointment details.

Witzenburg had stepped forward as a police chief candidate, which Brenner said he had encouraged.

Brenner said previously that he appreciated career opportunities that opened to him. He graduated from Oneonta High School in 1982 then earned an associate’s degree in applied sciences from SUNY Morrisville in 1985.

His career in law enforcement started when he became a corrections officer at the Otsego County Jail in 1986. In March 1988, he was promoted to deputy on road patrol. He took the police officer exam in December 1989, then joined the Cooperstown Police Department in July 1990 before transferring to the OPD in October 1998.

In 2007, Brenner was promoted to OPD patrol sergeant, and in May 2012, he became lieutenant.

Brenner, 53, said he is eligible to retire in October 2018. But the chief said he won't be considering retirement for about five years, which he described as a “nice round number.”

Brenner said he has appreciated the past six months as acting chief, including interactions with the community, department officers and employees and Common Council members and city staff.

“I do enjoy it,” he said.  

Denise Richardson, staff writer, may be reached at (607) 441-7213 or at drichardson@thedailystar.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_DeniseR.