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New chief in town
• Crowd turns out to usher in new CPD leadership
Chief Rick Collins oath.jpg
Rick Collins takes the oath from Ceres Mayor Chris Vierra to become Ceres’ new police chief. - photo by Jeff Benziger

A full house of well-wishers jammed into the small assembly room of the Ceres Community Center Thursday evening to watch the formal swearing-in of new Police Chief Rick Collins.

Collins was selected to succeed Brent Smith who retired on Friday, March 29.

Mayor Chris Vierra asked Collins to repeat the oath of office. When Vierra came to the phrase, “that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States,” Collins asked the mayor to “…break that down a little bit” to rollicking laughter. Vierra split the phrase in half and Collins breezed through it and the rest of the oath. His wife Heidi pinned on his new chief’s badge and gave him a hug. His first act as chief was to apologize for the glitch in the oath, saying, “It was just a mouthful I couldn’t get out.”

Chief Collins thanked Smith for mentoring him over the years and prodding him to further his education beyond his two-year degree.

“Prior to getting into management he would come in my office a lot (and say) ‘You really need to get your four-year degree,” said Collins. “I wasn’t really big on school but he persisted and I’ve taken my bachelor’s degree and he said ‘Ok now you need to get your master’s degree.”

Collins told Smith, “Do you know how much debt I’m in now getting my master’s degree?”

Smith dogged Collins to complete his education and provided him “a lot of opportunity and exposed me to a lot of things that led to today.”

The new chief choked up when he thanked his wife and son for sacrifices they’ve made, including his absence from home after he got into management and for the long separation while he attended the FBI Academy “so I could realize this special day – I can’t thank you enough.”

“To my son Trey, Dad’s trying to set the example for you, son – the sacrifice, the grind, the hard work. It’s for you, please take note. I hold you in high regards. I’m confident that you can do whatever you want to do in life and I’m trying to set the example for you. Thank you for support and your sacrifice as well.”

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Rick Collins’ wife Heidi and son Trey watch his Thursday evening swearing-in. - photo by Jeff Benziger

He also thanked his parents for the example of getting through adversity.

“I sat back as a kid and learned early that if you want it, you have to go get it. They led by example and I followed so mom and dad I thank you.”

Collins addressed fellow officers in the room when he stated he was honored to “lead them into the future.”

“I’ve been in Ceres since 1985 so although I’m a Modesto resident, I’m a Ceres community member and I’ve dedicated my life. I grew up in that building across the street … and along the way I’ve had the privilege and honor to learn under some really good leaders – some of them who are sitting in this room today, some of them who are not.”

He said Ceres Police Department is committed to engaging in the community and reduce crime with a cadre of veteran and “young cops who are really to go out and reduce crime but also engage the community.” 

City Manager Toby Wells presented a plaque of appreciation to former Chief Smith who was dressed in his ranch clothes.

“When we stepped into this role here a little over four years I don’t think either one of us had any clue what we were about to face,” said Wells, who was referencing how Smith became chief at the same time Wells became city manager after the resignation of Art deWerk who had been doing both jobs. “We were excited but at the same time we didn’t realize the little show that we were going to go through. It starts with an ‘S’ but we had some fun. So I just want to personally thank Brent for his hard work, his effort, his dedication to this organization. He’s left this place in a better place. The citizens and all of our employees are better off for his service.”

Wells later explained that the department was fractured by deWerk’s departure during a time when the city had to deal with lawsuits, officer-involved shootings, officers leaving, and financial difficulties that caused positions to be frozen.

Wells spoke about how Smith guided the police department to find its “new foundation” and said “it was not pleasant at times.”

“But where we’re at today four years later we have a department that is moving forward.”

Like Smith, Collins is a Ceres High School product and rose through the ranks of the Ceres Police Department.

“A story that I think needs to be told … is wow here is somebody that we’re promoting this evening and celebrating who started as an explorer in this organization, has worked up through all the ranks and is now in position to be our next chief.  And that is something that is very important. He has invested countless hours in our community, coaching youth sports, being in activities, doing all of those things to better himself and better our community.

“We’ve also invested in him. He’s gone to the FBI Academy. He’s gone and got his bachelor’s and master’s degree. All of those things position him perfectly where he is today to lead us forward in the police department.”

Those in attendance included District Attorney Birgit Fladager, Sheriff Jeff Dirkse, former Ceres Deputy Police Chief and now Escalon Police Chief Mike Borges, and Ceres High graduate Adam McGill who is now police chief of Novato.

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Ceres City Manager Toby Wells (right) commends retiring Police Chief Brent Smith (center) for guiding the Police Department to stability as Mayor Chris Vierra listens. - photo by Jeff Benziger