HILLIARD, Ohio (WCMH) – The next leader of the Hilliard Police Department will bring experience as a top cop in one of the state’s largest departments.

The two finalists for an open deputy chief position include former Columbus interim Chief Michael Woods and current Columbus Deputy Chief Jennifer Knight. They rose to the top of more than three dozen applicants. Friday morning, Hilliard residents were able to see the candidates and ask questions during a public meet and greet event.

“The police are the community, the community are the police. And that is the number one relationship that has to be fostered, that has to be strong,” said Hilliard Chief Eric Grile.

He planned to retire after years as the Hilliard deputy chief when the previous chief announced his own retirement. Grile took over the top position to help transition the department to new leadership. When he leaves, the newly hired deputy chief will inherit the role.

Woods retired from CPD in early July after more than 30 years with the department. During the last six months, he served as interim chief while the city searched for a full-time replacement for former chief Thomas Quinlan.

“I love the interaction between the police and the community and I wasn’t done,” Woods explained.

Knight is a graduate of Hilliard High School and has been with the Columbus Division of Police for more than 2 decades. She feels her career is just taking off.

“I’m looking for an opportunity to lead a division. And this is the opportunity I think I’ve been seeking,” she said.

Both candidates have extensive experience in a department with more than 2,000 employees in a city experiencing record-level violence and waning public trust. By contrast, Hilliard employs fewer than 100 people and has a significantly lower crime rate.

“Columbus and Hilliard [are] completely different communities [with] completely different problems,” explained Chief Grile.

Woods and Knight say they welcome the differences.

“I’m looking for an opportunity to lead men and women in an area that is supported by their community… that allows me to do the things I think we need to do in law enforcement. I want a change,” Knight said.

Woods added, “They have time to interact, to follow-up on issues, to follow up on problems. And I think what really attracts me to it is a better, more in-depth relationship with our community here.”

Community members who attended Friday’s meet and greet event were encouraged to fill out forms with feedback on both candidates. The Hilliard Chief and City Manager will weigh the public comments as they consider who to hire. Although there’s no specific timeline, the city says the decision will likely happen in the coming weeks.