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Summit County Sheriff's office's new diversity director hopes to make substantial change

Esther Thomas is the new director of diversity, equity and inclusion at the Summit County Sheriff's Office.  [Esther Thomas /  Summit County Sheriff's Office]
Esther Thomas stands in front of an American flag

Esther Thomas was tapped in August to be director of diversity, equity and inclusion in the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. The county's first female sheriff, Kandy Fatheree, created the role earlier this year.

Kandy Fatheree has been elected Summit County sheriff. She will be the first woman to hold the job. [Facebook]

Thomas' goal in her new role is for diversity, equity and inclusion to be at the forefront of all decisions made. She wants the culture of the department to reflect this and hopes this will help the department better serve the community.

Establishing trust

One project Thomas has been working on is improving relationships between law enforcement and the community. She wants to listen and engage with the community and start difficult conversations.

"Having those relationships—the communication can lead to relationships, and relationships and establishing trust and communication is so important. That's how we're going to get things done. That's how we can speak to one another and not at each other," Thomas said.

She says the Faith & Blue event earlier this month that brought law enforcement, religious leaders and the community together was a huge hit.

Building a bridge to communication

Thomas has been working in public service for more than 20 years. She worked as the human resource director for Akron Summit Community Action. Before that, she served on the Summit County Juvenile Court. She says her background in Summit County has prepared her for this role.

"One of the things I think is critical both to my interest in this position and my ability to do that is listening, and it's critical listening without imposing judgement. And I honed that as a magistrate on the Summit County Juvenile Court, listening to all types of situations and circumstances," she said.

Thomas says all of this hinges on being able to hear citizens.

"One thing about this work because diversity, equity and inclusion - people have ideas about what they think that is, and sometimes those ideas challenge them or make them nervous so listening and making sure they're heard and they know they've been heard helps build a bridge to communication," she said.

Diversity training

Thomas thinks diversity, equity and inclusion is crucial to the Sheriff's Office because diverse teams have better outcomes, come to different resolutions, are more engaged and can make a positive impact on a diverse community.

"That's my goal to facilitate that through training initiatives," she said.

Starting in January, every sworn officer in the office must attend training on diversity.

A diverse agency

Thomas says Fatheree has the vision to create a diverse agency.

"She has actually been 'battle tested' about what it means to be a woman in a very male dominated environment," she said.

Thomas thinks Fatheree can achieve an inclusive office that reflects the population of Summit County.

E.J. Brinson was originally hired for the position of director of diversity, equity and inclusion in March but was let go less than a month after starting. Fatheree said Brinson wasn’t the right fit for the job. Brinson is now suing the sheriff and Summit County alleging discrimination, retaliation and a hostile work environment.

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