Criminal Justice Update
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Criminal Justice Update

Q&A with Ohio BCI superintendent

Tom Stickrath is a proven leader in Ohio’s criminal justice field. At BCI, he’s committed to making an already well-respected organization the best of its kind. Period.
On striving for excellence
I share the Attorney General’s vision that BCI very clearly be the best at what we do — be the best investigative agency, the best laboratory, the best operation of our type in the country. How you achieve that is through customer service, understanding our customers’ needs, understanding where BCI adds value.
I’ve told my leadership team that this is a new normal — this level of engagement, the increased number of cases coming into our lab, the high level of investigations and calls that we get — so we need to get used to the pace. I set the bar high, and I have high expectations.
Through continuous improvement and progressive thinking, we want to serve Ohio’s police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, and our state and federal partners to the best of our ability. The Attorney General challenges me quite regularly to think big, and I in turn challenge our staff in that way. To think cutting edge, not just in technology, but in everything we do. In how we do training, how we work with our partners.
Part of that vision is to really elevate the field, particularly in the area of forensic science. I have a vision of not just improving turnaround times — we’ll achieve significant improvement there — but beyond that I’d like to see the entire field of forensic science elevated, with Ohio taking a leadership position.
On BCI’s strategies for improvement
If somebody’s doing something better than us, I want to learn from that. We’re looking at other labs, at best practices, and benchmarks. We’re challenging our staff to read the literature, to understand the latest science.
So we’ll get there by hiring the best, looking for the best, reading the research, and engaging with Ohio researchers and academicians. Just within the last two weeks, I’ve had meetings with the provosts of two state universities in Ohio on this very topic, on how we can partner — whether it’s with research, interns, externs — to elevate the field of forensic science in Ohio.
On what he’s learned about BCI
You know, I’ve worked in criminal justice for 30-plus years, and I realize now I didn’t know a lot about BCI. It’s been a whole new world. I understand the need for our agents often to be undercover, but I want people to know what we do in as transparent a way as possible. That’s why we encourage tour groups, visitors, students. Ultimately, I think that elevates our work. The more people know, the better we can recruit great talent. It’s also letting taxpayers and legislators know the importance of the work.
I want the public to know that we have an incredible level of sophistication, dedication, and professionalism within BCI. The law enforcement community knows that. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t get multiple letters of appreciation from people we’ve assisted — police officers, sheriffs’ deputies, prosecutors all across the state. And that’s the most important thing; they’re our most direct customers. But I also would like that to be known throughout the state. When people see “BCI,” I want that to really mean something to the citizens of Ohio, something special.
On BCI’s relationship with local authorities
I want them to think of us as true partners. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with sheriffs and chiefs and prosecutors. I want them to see us as that partner and that place that adds value to the law enforcement community through our specialties — through our Laboratory, Identification, and Investigations divisions.
The Law Enforcement Roundtables that the Attorney General has been holding across the state are great vehicles to get the message out. I give sheriffs and chiefs my cell phone number and tell them to call me 24/7. And they take me up on that, fortunately not every night or every minute!
I really liked what I heard from the Chardon police chief and Geauga County sheriff as we were talking about our collaboration in the case of the tragic school shooting there. They said in that particular case, there was no job too big for BCI, yet no job too small. So whether it was helping with the major components of that investigation and crime scene or pointing someone in the right direction, BCI was there to help. We’re not a small agency, but I think we’re agile, and we can respond quickly.
On what best prepared him for this role
I’m not a scientist and I’m not a police officer, and so I have great respect for those who are. What helped me, other than having the opportunity to hold leadership positions in other large organizations, is working with a broad spectrum of practitioners in the criminal justice community. That gives me a strong understanding of the criminal justice system and where the pieces and parts fit together.
On his introduction to the criminal justice field
I started in criminal justice as a summer intern with the Washington County Prosecutor’s Office. That really opened my eyes to both public service and criminal justice. And then I had a summer internship with the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction between my second and third years of law school and just became fascinated with corrections work.
As I got into public service and into corrections, to have the opportunity to be engaged in public policy and even help shape public policy, to be a part of something that impacted so many people across the state, was really exciting. And it’s really been rewarding.
On his management style
I believe strongly in “management by walking around,” by walking and talking. That’s how I learn. It’s been one of my main management principles in every position that I’ve had. You can learn much more by talking to staff than you can by pushing paper. And, you know, that’s a challenge, because there’s plenty of paper to push and phone calls and e-mails to answer.
When I was a prison warden many years ago, my assistant said she was going to have to put a cow bell on me so she would know where I was because I was always walking around and talking to the inmates and staff.
It’s also important to tell people that they’re doing a good job. All managers have to deal with people from time to time who aren’t performing, but I like to catch people doing things right. That’s important.
On what makes him tick
I really enjoy working with people. I feel really blessed to have had the opportunities that I’ve had with my family and my career.
The Tom Stickrath File
Hometown: Marietta, Ohio
Education: He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a law degree, both from Ohio State University. As member of the Ohio State Marching Band, Stickrath played the trumpet and participated in four Rose Bowls, a World Series game, and a presidential inauguration.
Family: His wife, Denise, is a certified public accountant. They have two daughters, a college sophomore and an eighth-grader.
On the side: Public service is a favorite pastime.Stickrath serves as vice chair of the board of The Justice Center, a national criminal justice think tank; as a national commissioner with the American Correctional Association; as a policy board member with the Mid Atlantic Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network (MAGLOCLEN); as president of his community water association; and as school board president for Central College Christian Academy in Westerville.
Past roles: Stickrath has served as director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety; director of the Ohio Department of Youth Services; assistant director, regional director, warden and chief inspector for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction; and as interim director of the Governor’s Office of Criminal Justice Services.