City Opens Door on Search for Police Chief Print
News/Features - Local News
Tuesday, 08 August 2000 18:00
Choosing a police chief is often done behind closed doors, with the public getting its first glimpse at a news conference after a decision has already been made. But the City of Davenport is throwing the process wide open.

Last week, the public got a preview of the selection process in two meetings with management consultant Tom Dority of the Georgia-based firm The Mercer Group. On August 2 and 3, Dority hosted evening forums to get feedback on what citizens want from their next police chief. The meetings with Dority were just the beginning of a process that offers the public many chances to give input and see candidates. A panel will interview the final four or five candidates in early October, but the public will be able to observe the interviews, Dority told the audience last week. In addition, the city will probably give a public reception for finalists.

“A lot of people were surprised” by the openness, said Mayor Phil Yerington.

“The more people have a chance to see the candidates, they gain some confidence,” Dority explained in an interview with the River Cities’ Reader after the public meetings. “The public wants to know the chief.”

The process will move quickly. Even though advertising only began August 1, the closing date for applications is September 1. Dority said he plans to give a citizen review committee a list of about 10 finalists by mid-September. That committee will reduce the list of finalists to four or five, and interviews with those candidates will be held in early October. A new chief could begin by the end of October – if he or she comes from within the Davenport police department – or late November.

The Mercer Group is being paid about $23,000 to conduct searches for Davenport’s police and fire chiefs. The group will also be reimbursed for direct expenses, which will likely amount to approximately $7,000, Dority said.

There does seem to be an urgency to the search. The Davenport Police Department has been faced with accusations of profiling – stopping motorists because they fit certain criteria rather than because they’ve done anything wrong – and mistreating racial minorities.

It’s also been an embarrassing year for the department. One vice-squad officer was fired after an investigation alleged that he used his position to manipulate city rules to purchase a forfeited automobile for less than its value. And in April, an off-duty officer crashed a city-owned car after he had been drinking.

These incidents “have bruised the department,” Dority said.

Police Chief Steve Lynn resigned in May after numerous run-ins with Yerington, who had called for oversight of the department to be shifted from the city administrator to elected officials. But controversy still seems to dog the department. Last week, 14 officers were promoted, including one officer, who had been disciplined six times. He’s now the department’s second-in-command, behind Acting Chief Wayne Nelson. (Dority said the promotions in general should not have waited for a new chief: “That will help stabilize the department in the meantime.”) The department also swore in 12 new officers on August 7.

With that type of recent history, Dority said that the city isn’t looking for somebody who wants to cruise along with the department; Davenport clearly needs a chief who likes challenges. “I think the opportunity is to help get the department back on the positive,” Dority said. “It will take a person with a certain seasoning and a certain savvy.”

Last week’s meetings were designed to stay positive and focus on community strengths, and “challenges” rather than “problems.” Language distinctions aside, those who attended the meetings stressed their opposition to racial profiling and politics within the department. Residents also said the department is presently a headless body; they don’t know to whom to address their complaints and questions. “It isn’t happening now,” said one attendee of the August 3 forum, which drew about 20 people, including a handful who had attended the previous day’s meeting. “They don’t know who to talk to.”

Communication was a big concern at the Thursday meeting. “In the past, neighborhood groups would collect information and not be able to get it to an officer,” said one person. Other attendees said a key challenge for the new chief would be to rebuild the trust between citizens and officers.

Citizens seemed to be pushing for implementation of the “community policing” model of law enforcement, a technique that stresses prevention and familiarity. Communities that have adopted the policy have given officers regular beats and schedules so they can get to know neighborhoods’ residents and problems. Many communities have also created “resident” positions, in which an officer either lives or has an office in troubled neighborhoods; the area for which the officer is responsible is often much smaller than a typical beat. Community policing emphasizes a cooperative approach between officers and residents instead of the traditional cops-and-robbers adversarial relationship.

One big roadblock, though, is personnel. The union representing the police has routinely said the department is understaffed with its approximately 160 officers, and Lynn has said he repeatedly asked for more officers. Community policing is more labor-intensive and therefore more expensive than the type of policing Davenport does now.

“I don’t think we have the manpower for community policing,” Yerington told the River Cities’ Reader. But, he added, the department can target problem houses and neighborhoods for short periods of time – a technique he called “problem-oriented policing.”

Yerington listed as his top priority the “allocation of available manpower,” noting that the new chief needs to put as many officers as possible on uniformed patrols. Moving the department out of its current “disgusting” building and rebuilding public trust in police rounded out Yerington’s top three goals for the new chief. (Yerington, a police officer currently on leave of absence, said that he hasn’t made a decision whether he will apply for the chief’s post.)

Another topic raised repeatedly by citizens at the public meeting was cooperation among local law-enforcement agencies and the need to maintain and expand interdepartmental ties.

Dority said that when he writes his report to the city council, he will list items citizens named as strengths and challenges, but he won’t rank them from most to least important. “I try not to prioritize,” he said.

One audience member said the selection process will most likely produce a chief from outside the area. “My concern is that you have eliminated anyone from the Davenport police department” because of the advertised requirements, said police officer Paul Fredenburg who was promoted to lieutenant last week. Dority said the position will require at least a bachelor’s degree and 10 years experience at the command level “or an equivalent combination of education and experience.”

“We’ve basically promoted half our command staff,” Fredenburg said, suggesting that no internal candidates will have enough experience to meet Dority’s requirements.

“I’m not eliminating anybody,” Dority responded. The issue of a chief from outside the police department came up again later, when some of the people gathered described the local political climate as a “buzzsaw” to new officials brought in from other communities. “The politics of this community can be disruptive,” one member of the audience said. “Destructive,” added another. But even though residents said that the local political climate tends to chew up outsiders, Dority said politics are a constant. “It’s not going to be a surprise for a candidate from the outside,” he said.

The laundry list of challenges for the new police chief might create unreasonable expectations for the new chief, Dority conceded. But citizens “have those expectations whether they say them or not.”

Dority said he has not yet set what the chief will be paid, but he added that it will be competitive. Acting Chief Nelson is making $75,618 a year, the same amount that Lynn made as chief.

“The size of the Quad Cities, the size of the department, the pay structure will all be very attractive,” Dority said. “It’s not going to be difficult to find good people.”