City government consulting firm Strategic Government Resources held a community hearing Tuesday night with Ann Arbor residents and City Councilmembers to hear thoughts and concerns regarding the search for a new police chief. Ann Arbor’s last police chief, Jim Baird, transferred to Breckenridge, Colo. in February.
The meeting was held by Doug Thomas, the senior vice president of Strategic Government Resources, a firm that specializes in aiding local governments across the nation search for new government officials.
City Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, emphasized the importance of the new police chief’s relationship with the community.
“I’m looking for somebody who really has a strong sense of community and really wants to work with the community policing aspects,” Hayner said. “And also understands that here in Ann Arbor, we have a very diverse community and they need to be very understanding … we want somebody who is compassionate as well as authoritative.”
On Jan. 14, City Council will hold a work session outlining the goals for this hire. Hayner said the current police climate has taken a toll on the department and their hiring prospects.
“We are having a heck of a time trying to fill our ranks because no one wants to be a police officer right now,” Hayner said. “I highly recommend that we are doing ride alongs to see (the community) through the law enforcement officer’s eyes.”
Hayner discussed the necessity of the new chief being able to train others.
“What any department needs is a real strong leader who is going to set the tone for the department and someone who is going to do the training to avoid the situations we see on the news,” Hayner said. “I think it’s really important that we find someone who sets a tone of tolerance in the department.”
During the meeting, Thomas highlighted the community’s strong emphasis on the future.
“The point that I would emphasize is that there are issues and circumstances that has led to the model that is being used today,” Thomas said. “What I’m hearing from the community is that there is a willingness to move past that. I have not heard anybody say that they’re so stuck in the past that they’re not willing to move into the next stage.”
When asked about the challenges facing the next chief, Thomas emphasized the department’s challenges with workforce turnover and diversity. However, he said he would not favor a minority candidate.
“Clearly there’s been questions about staffing and turnover,” Thomas said. “Diversity of the workforce is another challenge, but these issues aren’t unique to Ann Arbor. The goal is not necessarily the race. The goal is the philosophy.”
Hayner said he was looking for someone who would be progressive in leading the police department.
“It’s a look at someone who is versed not only in ridged academy training but in new styles of policing, community policing and restorative justice and diversion practices … finding a balance and embracing and testing out new ideas,” Hayner said. “There is a perception problem and (we need) someone who is going to be intolerant of poor behavior in the department.”
Throughout the hearing, residents discussed concerns regarding the financial inequalities in Ann Arbor based on factors such as education and social privilege, with some saying they knew of people who had left the community because of a high cost of living and the lack of middle- and low-income housing. They said they wanted the incoming police chief to understand the concerns and politics of the community.
LSA freshman Audrey Ling said she was satisfied with the current work of the police department and hopes the new police chief can help continue this good work.
“It seems like the crime in the area is not as severe, so it seems like they’re doing a good job,” Ling said.
In talking about what she would want from a police chief, Ling discussed the large responsibility that falls on the police chief.
“I think that especially for any group of policemen, it’s good to have a good leader willing to take the fall sometimes, take responsibility in some situations,” Ling said. “They would also need to set an overall tone and set firm guidelines. He would also need to be able to manage all the people under them and make sure that they follow the rules.”
Residents at the meeting were conscious of national topics such as police brutality and acts of violence against civilians. Because police departments are well-armed, residents said they feared the potential of police overreacting to incidents. But, some said, they hoped the new chief would realize the potential for widespread media attention and scrutiny if that were to occur in Ann Arbor.
Members of the community felt local partnerships could help police to unite the residents with the police department while taking advantage of the wide variety of resources available.
Echoing this sentiment, Ling noted the potential for police collaboration with the local community.
“I think just being more involved with the community in general would help cast a positive light on the police department in Ann Arbor,” Ling said. “I think it also helps police to be more approachable so people can bring stuff up to them.”
Thomas left the meeting with a better understanding of the needs of the community and what to look for in a candidate.
“The impression that I walk out of tonight is that this is a community that is anxious for leadership in the police department that embraces accountability, helps foster relationships and is comfortable with a newly or evolving police oversight commission,” Thomas said. “(This community) is at a crossroad of looking for that next leadership.”