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Colonel Oscar Perez on his first year as Providence police chief

“Being the chief, you’re responsible for so many lives,” Perez, who is the first Latino chief in the city’s history, said in an interview for the Rhode Island Report podcast and “Rhode Island PBS Weekly.”

Colonel Oscar Perez, the Providence police chief.Michael Jones/Rhode Island PBS
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PROVIDENCE — It’s been nearly one year since Mayor Brett Smiley named Colonel Oscar Perez as the new chief of the Providence Police Department. Perez, a Colombian immigrant who grew up in South Providence, has been on the force since 1994.

Perez recently sat for an interview with Globe Rhode Island, which aired Sunday on Rhode Island PBS Weekly, to to reflect on his first year, the 2023 crime numbers, and his plans for the future of the department.

“You are the person that keeps the city safe, so it’s a huge responsibility,” Perez said of his job. “Being the chief, you’re responsible for so many lives.”

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Shootings and homicides both rose in Providence in 2023, though the increase came after violent crime plummeted in 2022.

“Violent crime in the city is trending down,” Perez said, citing the average over the past decade. “For me to sit here and tell you I’m going to prevent every homicide that occurs is impossible.” But he said detectives are proactively targeting violent individuals and seizing more guns off the street every year.

The vast majority of the homicides last year involved firearms.

Property crime was down 24 percent in 2023, driven in part by a massive drop in catalytic converter thefts.

Perez said the police department, which has 423 officers, is short-staffed, and he is aiming to get 60 recruits from a smaller-than-usual applicant pool for a new training academy set to begin later this year.

Watch highlights from the interview on Rhode Island PBS Weekly, or listen to the entire interview on the Rhode Island Report podcast.


Steph Machado can be reached at steph.machado@globe.com. Follow her @StephMachado.