When a 30-year-old David J. Collins sat before Rome city officials for his first interview to be a police officer back in 2005, he already had his career mapped out in his head. “They said ‘where do you see yourself?’ And I looked at Chief (Otto) Panara and I said, ‘your seat.’ I’ve said that in every interview I’ve ever had,” Collins recalled in a recent sit down with the Daily Sentinel.
Now, some 16 years later, Collins holds the rank of deputy chief, second highest position at the Rome Police Department. Collins was promoted in August. This is the first change in the department’s top brass in more than a decade. “My father always told me to be the best, no matter what I do, to just be the best and never take ‘no’ for an answer,” said Collins, himself a father of five and grandfather of two.
“I have that determination, I want to work hard. Hopefully the city realizes they can count on me. I’m not going to be someone who’s going to turn his back.”
Collins took the position following the retirement of former Deputy Chief Kevin M. Simons in May. Simons, along with current Police Chief Kevin C. Beach, was appointed to the position in 2008.
As deputy chief, Collins will oversee the day-to-day operations of the police department, including the Detective Division and Patrol Division. He will also be in charge of the Office of Professional Standards, Rome’s version of internal affairs.
“I’m blessed. I’ve got the right combination of people, so they make my job easy,” Collins said of his department.
“I think I’ve got a little bit of the hybrid of the military style. Treat people with respect, treat others how you want to be treated. You work hard and play later attitude. I’ve always had that drive where you know when it’s time to play and time to be serious. If you put your head down and do what you’re supposed to do, and conduct yourself in a professional manner, you’ll get positive results.”
Collins is the first Black deputy chief in the department’s history. Collins also holds the distinction of being the first Black sergeant, lieutenant and captain in the Rome Police Department.
Collins was born in Bridgeport, Conn., and grew up in a military family. His grandfather and uncle served in the Army, while his father, Rodney Collins, would eventually serve 25 years in the Air Force.
It was his father’s service that brought the family to Rome when Collins was 16, when his dad was stationed at Griffiss Air Force Base prior to its closing.
“When we were little, my dad used to say ‘you can go to college or you can join the military, but you’re not going to sit around and do nothing.’ I wanted to be like my dad, ever since I was little,” Collins said. “I was real close with my father.”
After graduating Rome Free Academy in 1993, Collins joined the Army and served three years active duty in Germany. He was honorably discharged and returned to his family in Rome, where he signed up for the Army Reserve.
“I wanted to have the best of both worlds. I wanted to stay military, but I wanted to be back here in the civilian world, so I joined the Reserves,” Collins explained.
From a young age, Collins said he had been interested in both working in the medical field or in law enforcement. His brother was routinely sick as a child, Collins said, which led to a “fascination” with medics. And his uncle was in the military police, and he “idolized” his uncle.
He enlisted with the Army Reserves as a medic and they put him through training at BOCES. He then worked as a licensed practical nurse as St. Elizabeth Medical Center from 1997 to 2001. It was during this time that Collins met his future wife, the two of them serving together in the Reserves.
The young couple would also ship off together to the Middle East in 2002 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Collins said he was initially stationed in Kuwait as a medic. “We were the only real general hospital in the theater, so a lot of stuff came our way,” Collins said. “Once we made that push across the border in the initial stages of the war, we saw a lot.”
Collins and his future wife returned stateside in 2003 and quickly decided they wanted to make it permanent — between deployments. “We were home for just about six months and they told us we were going to get deployed again, so her and I wanted to get married,” he lovingly recalled.
The pair tied the knot on Feb. 11, 2004 and were deployed again a short time later. This time, Collins was sent back to a hospital in Germany instead of Iraq. He served six months and returned home, intent on starting a new career path.
“I went the nursing route first. I did that, I liked that. But after being deployed and doing it a little bit, I just wanted to try something else,” Collins explained.
He switched his role in the Reserves to military police and he took the civil service test to join the Rome Police Department. He was hired as a patrolman in 2005, already intent on having a rising career. “I think it was pretty cool. I liked it a lot. We didn’t have a lot of the rhetoric that we have now, where everyone wants to defund the police and all that nonsense. So obviously it was a better time to be a police officer,” Collins recalled.
“Honestly, I’ve stayed here with the Rome Police because I haven’t had a lot of negative experiences.”
Collins said some of the ranking officers took him under their wing, including Beach, Simons and then sergeant Dominic Corigliano, who now works with Collins as captain of patrol. Collins said he admired these officers and looked up to their examples.
“I just love it. I’ve always been treated well here. That’s why I stay here,” Collins stated. “I’ve traveled around a lot, just being a military brat. Rome is relatively safe, a nice community to raise your family in.”
Collins did eventually retire from the military in 2018, after transferring to the Air National Guard in 2013. In total, he served roughly 22 years with the military.
Over the course of his 16-year career so far with Rome Police, Collins said some of his best times were as a school resource officer. He said helping to guide the students and seeing the fruits of that work has been a very positive experience. He said it is reflective of the job of a police officer as a whole.
“You can see some of the kids you had an impact on while you were at the school, and now you see them, what they’re doing with their life now, and you know that you made a difference,” said Collins.
“When you help somebody, and even though you can’t help everyone, even if it’s one person it’s better than nothing. You can tell you’re making a difference. And that’s pretty cool to do that, to know that you helped make someone’s situation a little better.”
As he settles into his new leadership position, Collins said he hopes to keep building on the foundation of community-involvement started by Beach. He said he hopes this connection with the community can help dispel some of the anti-police rhetoric.
“I’d like to get more community involvement. Because honestly, I think that if your community trusts you, then a lot of those kinds of issues go away,” Collins stated.
“When you start to lose the faith and trust of the community, then they start to doubt what your real purpose is. And if people trust you, then they’re there to disprove some of those things that are out there. If they’ve had those positive experiences, they’re not going to be out there saying those things.”
And that’s just the start of his plans as a leader in the City of Rome.
“I’d like to look at some of the real problems that people identify with in the community and take their problems seriously, trying to tackle them,” said Deputy Chief Collins. “It’s all part of building the relationship with the community. We all live here, work here, and want this to be the best place it can be.”