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Police chief fails leadership test

Many questioned the leadership decisions Port Clinton police Chief Rob Hickman made in the days immediately after the Dilly family reported 14-year-old Harley Dilly missing.

Port Clinton is located along Lake Erie, about 35 miles east of Toledo.

The chief of that community appeared to lack a sense of urgency, seemingly too confident Harley was a runaway who would come home when he got hungry.

The boy was found dead Jan. 14, 25 days after he was last seen. His remains were found inside a chimney of an unoccupied house across the street from where he lived. Police believe he was attempting to get inside the house and became stuck in the chimney and suffocated.

Hickman delayed notifying other agencies and didn’t seek outside help immediately. He turned to social media as his tool of choice for communicating with the public, deferring, at first, any face-to-face contact with the public as the family’s panic — and the community’s concern — grew.

The chief’s social media posts became repetitive, limited, not very useful and lecturing, at times. Hickman actually took the time to respond back to people who made questionable posts at the chief’s site, making himself look ridiculous and distracted.

It seemed as if he thought himself a genius behind the keyboard. When the predictable blowback from other social media users became uncomfortable, Hickman grandstanded, announcing he would hold daily news conferences to update the public about the search for Harley.

He backpedaled again, however, because the Q&A of a live news conference proved too much. Hickman pushed back on questions, almost immediately, and for a few days made announcements that amounted to nothing, almost mumbling as he walked away from the podium saying he would not take any questions. He reverted back to social media, adopting a copy-and-paste approach to updating the public.

It’s horrible to even think about how Harley died as Hickman’s clown show proceeded. We so value first responders — all the men and women who work for the Port Clinton Police Department, the sheriff’s office, state Patrol troopers and others — always ready to serve and protect as do those responders in our own area. We have no doubt they did everything they could to help find Harley.

It might be likely that a well-led search would not have made any difference, in any event, with the outcome of this sad situation. Harley suffocated to death, according to an autopsy report, and that might have happened the first day he went missing before the search was even started.

Hickman, whose decision a few years ago to wear a Confederate flag vest to a bar and post a photo of himself wearing it to social media, was unprofessional then. During this 24-day crisis, his use of social media was unprofessional, again.

Port Clinton Mayor Mike Snider and city council should be very concerned about his leadership. The police force deserves a leader who can lead. Any agency or organization is perceived in the public by the public face it shows, and a chief’s job is to interact in a professional way with the public. Unfortunately, that’s not a skill set Hickman possesses.

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