Aurora mayor makes pick for next top cop
Deputy chief of Aurora force nominated for promotion
"The best is yet to come."
Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin emphasized those six words when he began his second term two months ago. And he echoed them Wednesday as he announced three city leaders poised to assume new positions.
They are retired investigations Sgt. Guillermo Trujillo as the new deputy mayor; police Cmdr. Matthew Thomas as the next deputy chief; and Deputy Chief Keith Cross as the top cop, ready to lead the more than 300-member police force that serves the state's second-largest city.
"These leaders that you see standing with me today are part of the best," Irvin said.
Pending city council approval, Cross, a 27-year veteran with the department, will replace retiring Chief Kristen Ziman, whose last day is Aug. 6.
Ziman's commitment to developing a "solid leadership team and a deep bench of professionals" the last five years gave Irvin confidence that there was no need for a national search, the mayor said. He knew his next chief was already among the ranks.
"I needed this leader to be a proven public safety professional who is steady under pressure, firm in resolve, and compassionate and relatable to fellow officers and members of the community," Irvin said during a media briefing Wednesday at Aurora City Hall. "This means, I knew we needed a leader who knows Aurora from a personal level, not just through policing."
While many officers fit the bill, he said, one stood out among the rest.
Like his predecessor, Cross grew up in Aurora and is deeply integrated with the community. A 1987 graduate of East Aurora High School, Cross went on to attend Waubonsee Community College and Bemidji State University in Minnesota before a brief stint with the Milwaukee Police Department, according to his biography.
Since returning to his hometown in 1994, Cross has worked in patrol, community policing, special operations, field training, central services and as a school resource officer. He was promoted to sergeant in 2005 and moved up the ranks to lieutenant, commander and, about 15 months ago, deputy chief.
As a patrol officer enjoying day-to-day interactions with residents years ago, Cross never imagined adopting the chief title, he said, but he's ready to embrace the opportunity. He intends to focus on community-oriented policing, building relationships, prioritizing training, leveraging technology, diversifying the workforce and seeking input from members of the department and community.
Ziman, who will complete her 30th year with the city July 29, has built the foundation for future success, Cross said, noting she leaves "tremendously large shoes to fill."
"Fortunately for me, I have big feet," he said, smiling. "However, I also have a great command staff and ... some of the finest officers and support staff in the land to help me carry the torch."
Cross, Thomas and Trujillo are among more than two dozen executive staff recommendations presented to the city council in executive session Tuesday, Irvin said, noting additional personnel announcements are forthcoming as part of his "reorganizational plan."
Aldermen have expressed their support for the slate. They will vote on the appointments at a future meeting.
Thomas, whom the mayor described as an "exceptional leader," has been on the force since 1997 and has a range of experience that has taught him the importance of "listening to understand, not just to respond," he said. His goals as deputy chief include continuing the department's momentum with a focus on officer wellness and modernizing equipment and operations.
After serving 30 years in law enforcement, Trujillo is coming out of retirement to fill the deputy mayor position, vacated late last year by the retired Chuck Nelson. Trujillo immigrated to the U.S. at 7 years old, graduated from East Aurora High School and has devoted his life to serving others, he said.
"These individuals you see standing up here with me today know our community," Irvin said. "They know what we need to do to take Aurora to the next level."