I’ve been working on this note for a long time. It started as a mass of competing thoughts and ideas before the last charter review in 2006. I put a draft on paper a couple times, including at the beginning of the current charter review. It’s still a work in progress but it’s to the point it needs to be part of the discussion.
After much thought I am convinced that the real issue is not elected vs. appointed chief. The real issue is how do we have a law enforcement and local justice system in the city that is professional, effective, efficient, competent and capable and trustworthy, accountable, and connected to the community.
We want a police force that is not a political tool, protection racket or revenue stream. When you reduce the issue down to a question of how do we choose the department head, the voters keep voting for a local connection and direct-to-the-voters accountability.
What needs to happen is a vision and a process that addresses more than just who gets to sit behind the desk every four years or so. Our city needs a system and process that is connected, accountable, and trusted and that creates an effective, efficient, professional law enforcement system that is an integral part of the community not an occupying force or protection racket.
There are basically three groups and three needs that should be satisfied for any workable system.
City hall needs a department head that can manage the department. Handle a budget. Keep the personnel rosters fully manned. That is, someone to deal with the numbers. The mantra of city hall might as well be if you can’t measure it and tie to a budget item, it isn’t real. The pressure from the top will be keep expenses low and bring in revenue. Again, if it doesn’t show up on a fiscal year budget or statistics from the FBI, it isn’t real.
The second group, comprised of the members of the police force, needs leadership. They will be the first to tell you that management and leadership are very different things. They would generally agree with the Army definition of leadership as influencing people by providing purpose, direction and motivation while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization. They would also add keep their officers safe and get them home every night.
The last, and most important, group is the citizens and people of the city.
That is, the community as a whole composed of each individual in the city. The community needs a police chief and department that they trust. They need to know and understand the beliefs and values of the managers and leaders in the department. They need to trust that the “to protect and serve” stenciled on the patrol cars is not just a cliché used for public relations. They need transparency so they can trust that when they get pulled over for some minor offense it really is for safety, not because some bean counter in city hall thinks the department needs to do more to generate revenue. They need to be sure that when they ask for help they can trust that that’s what they will get.
With all the negative press about police in other parts of the county, it’s comforting for the citizens of San Angelo to be able to walk up to the chief and say, “We put you into this office, and we can take you out.”
I’m for maintaining the elected police chief system in San Angelo.