Balken named Ocala police chief
Deputy Chief Mike Balken poses for a photo at the Ocala Police Department in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.
Mike Balken was named Ocala’s new police Tuesday night after the Ocala City Council voted unanimously to support Mayor Kent Guinn’s recommendation.
Balken, a 27-year veteran of the Ocala Police Department, has been deputy chief since 2018. He succeeds Greg Graham, who died tragically in an Oct. 25 plane crash near Dunnellon. Guinn has said Balken was Graham’s choice to succeed him.
“That was the plan the whole time – for Mike to become chief when Greg retired,” Guinn said.
Balken brings a wealth of experience within OPD to the job. After joining the agency in 1993 as a patrolman, he went on to be a field training officer, then a detective. He rose through the ranks to be a sergeant, a lieutenant and a watch commander. He worked in special operations and internal affairs before becoming a captain in 2014 and a major in 2015, during which time he oversaw all OPD’s investigations and led the patrol division.
The charter calls for Guinn, as mayor, to recommend someone to the City Council to fill a vacant chief’s post. Under the charter, the mayor oversees OPD.
In an interview with the Gazette last week, Balken said he intends to continue where Graham left off. He said under Graham, OPD improved its equipment, technology and training programs – much of it, in recent years, in large part because of proceeds from the countywide 1 percent local sales tax — and left the department in a strong position.
“Where did Chief Graham leave us?” Balken asked. “We’re in a position to make some great strides. We’re stronger now than any time in my 27 years here.”
Balken praised Graham’s work to build trust and relationships in the community and said he intends to carry on that approach.
“He understood this was not his police department,” Balken said. “This is your department, the people of Ocala’s department. … He was really a progressive leader. He was always on the cutting edge of whatever was coming down the pike next.”
Balken and his wife, Dawn, have a grown son and daughter. Balken enjoys surfing, scuba diving, hunting and white-water rafting.