AAPD narrows search for new police chief to top three

Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - 10:02pm

On Wednesday night, the city of Ann Arbor held an open forum event for residents to meet the three final candidates for a new chief of police: Michael Cox of Boston, Bryan Jarrell of Arizona and Ann Arbor’s Jason Forsberg. There were nearly 50 attendees from City Council members to police officers and civilians.

In the casual, cocktail hour-style event, attendees were able to openly converse with the candidates. Cox, Jarrell and Forsberg each spoke with The Daily about a range of issues including their past experience, their thoughts on cross-jurisdiction cooperation with the University of Michigan police and their plans to move forward with the new Independent Community Police Oversight Commission.

For nearly 25 years, Sergeant Bill Clock has served with the Ann Arbor Police Department. Clock said he and his fellow officers would want a chief who is committed to the department, open to officers’ ideas, well-educated and experienced.

“I think the biggest thing for me is someone who will listen to our suggestions and what we want and then make the decision and that’s the decision,” Clock said. “They’re the boss, and they’re going to choose.”

The new chief of police will be replacing Robert Pfannes, interim chief of police, who is planning to retire May 24. Pfannes has spent 21 years with the Ann Arbor Police Department as Deputy Chief.

“We just need stable leadership,” Clock said. “I think we’re open to whatever direction we go. We haven’t had a true chief for over a year, so it’s tough to kind of move forward and progress without that. Whatever candidate is chosen, I’m sure will be best for the job. We just want stable leadership.”

Ann Arbor’s new ICPOC has been at the center of the search for a new chief. The commission was formed as civilian monitoring of the AAPD following the fatal shooting of Aura Rosser in 2014 by an officer, and the position’s public listing noted the commission as a unique challenge for the appointee.

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, is one of the City Council’s two lesions on the oversight commission. Ramlawi told The Daily what the commission is looking for in a new chief, noting commitment and open-mindedness.

“I think one that is open to new ideas; one that has faced some of the challenges we face here — somebody who has some longevity,” Ramlawi said. “I’d like to see someone who’s going to be here for a while, and someone who’s receptive, asking questions, interested, really trying to get to know the challenges in the community and know how to apply themselves. We’re looking for a lot of things. No one is perfect. We’re looking for the type of person who fits the needs of our community.”

The oversight commission has held two official meetings, one of which was an emergency meeting Tuesday night with the city’s HR department. Former HR director Robyn Wilkerson resigned May 1 after accusations of sending inappropriate text messages which were negative toward the Black Lives Matter movement and the oversight commission. The commission convened to investigate whether Wilkerson’s actions tainted the recruitment process for a new police chief.

Assistant City Administrator John Fournier was also present at the meeting. Fournier said it was an “illuminating” meeting and provided a lot of insight to the public regarding how the recruitment process was carried out.

“When you’re in a position of public importance and public service, it’s really important to be transparent, and it’s really important to be open to oversight and communication and things like that,” Fournier said. “We take that really seriously in Ann Arbor.”

Ramlawi said he was satisfied with how the meeting transpired.

“I feel more comfortable knowing that officials from our city have gone on record indicating (contamination of the recruitment process) wasn’t the case,” Ramlawi said. “It gives the community more confidence and comfort in the process.”

Clock said he has confidence in the professionalism of the police department and does not believe they need an oversight commission, but he respects the city residents’ desire to establish one nonetheless. Clock said he has yet to notice a change in the way his job works on account of the commission, but he acknowledged they are just getting started.

“I don’t think (the commission) has a lot of direct influence on us,” Clock said. “We’re going to take direction from the chief of police, whoever that may be. They’ll get leadership guidance from the city administrator and the mayor and the commission, and they’ll delegate it down to us.”

Cox has been with the Boston Police Department since 1989 and is currently Bureau of Professional Development bureau chief for the Boston Police Academy and has been since 2018. In 1995, Cox was beaten by police officers while undercover in plainclothes. All three candidates viewed the commission as a positive opportunity for Ann Arbor, but Cox offers a unique perspective having been the subject of police brutality.

“I think oversight commissions tend to be good because it’s really an educational process,” Cox said. “A lot of miscommunications happen with police and citizens sometimes because it’s just mistrust, whether it’s deserved or not. But, because of that mistrust, there’s a lack of dialogue.”

Cox said he would perform well as police chief over the course of this transition because of his past experience with police oversight.

“In the Boston area where I’m from, we are heavily into community policing,” Cox said. “It’s in the fiber of everything we do, and that’s really just engaging the public and working with them in every way possible.”

Jarrell has served as Chief of Police for the Prescott Valley Police Department in Arizona since 2013. He started his career in Southfield, Michigan in 1985 and was Deputy Police Chief for 10 years before moving to Arizona. Jarrell said his department in Arizona also functioned with an oversight committee, and he had only positive reviews of it.

“The analogy I always give is, if I’m going to turn my homework into the teacher, and I know she’s not going to check it, am I going to do a very good job on that?” Jarrell said. “It’s the same thing. … I’m not above people checking my work, and I don’t think anyone should be. I also think if you do know someone is going to be checking your homework, you’re going to put a little more effort into it and make sure it gets done right.”

Jarrell said he believes the commission provides the opportunity for self-improvement. He takes pride in his ability to get better at his job over the years. In 2017, Jarrell was briefly suspended for misplacing his gun. Jarrell said he’s learned a lot from the incident and “owns the mistake.”

Jason Forsberg, AAPD’s current Deputy Chief, is also running for the position. Forsberg said he is “excited to be able to use” the commission.

“They’re sort of spokespeople for the greater community out there, so I’m excited for their expertise and their opinions on how the community wants to be policed,” Forsberg said.

Forsberg spent over 20 years with the University Police Department as a police officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant and captain at the Ann Arbor campus. In 2016, he moved to the Dearborn campus and served as Deputy Chief of Police prior to transferring to the AAPD. Forsberg said he believes his experience with the University translates well into leadership of the AAPD.

“I love the city,” Forsberg said. “I love the University. I know the University well. I know the city very well. I believe I am pretty in tune with the police oversight commission and the direction they’re headed. I’ve been in this community for 23 years … I feel like I am best equipped to do the job, and I want to have that challenge.”

All three candidates stressed the importance of cooperation between the AAPD and the University’s campus police, the Division of Public Safety and Security.

“We need to be seamless in how we interact,” Cox said. “Particularly in protecting the public, protecting the students; that’s what we’re here for.”

Jarrell said he believes all cross-jurisdiction relationships are valuable to maintain. He said there were many times during his tenure in Arizona where his department had to work alongside the local sheriff, fire chief and even the FBI.

“Any agency — whether it’s a police department or fire department or whatever — if you think you can go this alone, you’re going to fail,” Jarrell said. “Any silo or any island ultimately becomes cut off and it fails.”

Clock said the Ann Arbor and University jurisdictions are irreversibly intertwined and interdependent.

“What’s good for the University is really good for the city and vice versa,” Clock said.

Each of the candidates said they encourage the community to engage and communicate with them should they be appointed.

“It’s hard to help someone if you don’t hear what their problems are, what their concerns are,” Cox said.

Brian Mackie, Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney, came to the event to familiarize himself with the candidates. He said he admired the three candidates for pursuing this position despite living in what Mackie believes is an anti-law enforcement era.

“We have a very, very low prison commitment rate in Washtenaw County and across the state. … We need to get more serious about protecting our most vulnerable citizens,” Mackie said.

Fournier said following extensive interviews with councilmembers and commission members over the next two days, the City Council will make a recommendation and the City Administrator will make the final decision on the city’s next chief of police.

“I think we have three really fantastic candidates here,” Fournier said. “I’m really pleased with where we are, and I think we’re going to end up with a really amazing police chief.”