New Edinburg Police Chief Cesar Torres is sworn in at Edinburg City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — The city swore in a new police chief Thursday, nearly two months after its previous chief was demoted due to the city’s low public safety rankings.

City Manager Juan Guerra selected Cesar Torres to be the next chief. Most of Torres’ 27-year law enforcement career was spent with the Texas Department of Public Safety.

A 1986 graduate of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School, Torres joined the Mission Police Department in 1991 and was hired by DPS in 1997, working in both Austin and the Rio Grande Valley.

“I was a little bit hesitant when the pick was made by our city manager, but it was clear the right choice was made by the turnout,” Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina told those in attendance at Thursday’s ceremony, which included police chiefs from various local agencies, the sheriff, district attorney and numerous state troopers.

PUBLIC SAFETY RATINGS

Torres, who will start Jan. 7, 2019, replaces David White, who Guerra demoted to the rank of lieutenant Nov. 9 as a result of his “unsatisfactory job performance,” according to a letter Guerra sent White that was acquired by the Progress Times.

The letter mentioned “a disconnect between leadership and staff as well as management’s ineffective use of resources to motivate and develop a functioning team to keep residents safe,” an insight gained by an October anonymous employee survey.

Guerra also cited a range of low ratings from online public safety rankings, among them niche.com and areavibes.com, which gave Edinburg a “C+” score for “Crime & Safety” based on violent crime and property crime rates and an “F” for crime based on annual crime, respectively.

He additionally cited safehome.org, which ranked the city 60 out of 65 Texas cities with populations above 50,000 in terms of safety, and wallethub.com, which ranked the city 95 “out of 117 Texas Best & Worst cities for Texas Families.” McAllen, Pharr and Mission received higher scores by all four websites.

The FBI’s yearly Uniform Crime Report data, which Niche and WalletHub use to base their scores are “incomplete analyses,” according to the federal agency, which notes in its UCR reports that the “FBI has a long-standing policy against ranking participating law enforcement agencies on the basis of crime data alone.”

The city manager defended the use of these ratings Thursday, telling The Monitor they are “unbiased ratings” that cities can use “to identify where there is a need for improvement.” He gave the example of when the city of Brownsville decided to expand its hike and bike trail after WalletHub named it one of the fattest cities in the nation.

Guerra also said residents deserve a return on investment since Edinburg police are the highest paid in the county.

“I don’t expect us to go from an ‘F’ to an ‘A’ overnight, but we need to better understand how we got rated an ‘F’ while other cities neighboring us are rated better, and identify best practices,” he said, adding one of his first tasks for Torres is to “take a look at how those grades are calculated.”

A QUICK HIRE

Torres’ starting salary is $130,000, according to the city manager’s office, and he was one of approximately 20 applicants.

The application period ran from Nov. 15 to Dec. 13, according to city spokeswoman Cary Zayas.

Rumors of Torres’ hiring began circulating within the local law enforcement community as early as Tuesday, leaving little time to vet candidates.

Guerra, however, said he had to make a quick hiring decision because, “I needed to make sure that the public safety for the city of Edinburg was stable. I was starting to see some movement and I cut it off.”

This movement included the naming of two interim chiefs within a one-month span, with Lt. Edgardo “Edgar” Ruiz deciding to step down Dec. 3 and Assistant Chief Peter De La Garza being named to the position Dec. 7.

The city manager said Torres’ experience, skills and personality made for an easy hiring decision.

“When you promote from within it’s to maintain the (department’s) structure … and when you promote from outside, you inject new and fresh ideas to change the culture and improve.”

REDUCING CRIME

When asked what goals he had for the department, Torres broadly said he wanted to “provide critical services to our citizens of Edinburg and to deter crime from coming to our city.”

“I ask the citizens of Edinburg to have confidence in me and I will work endlessly to make sure that we bring our crime down and we take care of our elderly, our veterans, our needy,” he added.

While he admitted that the work of a DPS peace officer is different from that of a police officer, he said keys to the law enforcement field are “respecting people and knowing how to de-escalate situations before they get worse and communicating with our community.”

He also said he would “absolutely” keep assistant chiefs De La Garza and Orlando Garcia in their roles.