Sunday, July 17, 2016

Was Memphis' Cop Search Process Doomed from the Start?

Was the city’s search for a new chief of police a political exercise in futility that cost taxpayers $40,000 -- or more?   

When Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland this spring asked his interim appointee, Michael Rallings, to apply for the permanent post of director of police services, it signaled to some potential national candidates that the mayor's mind was made up.  Moreover, why did Strickland or the search entity not even talk with arguably some of the top police administrators in the country -- even one who was a former Memphis police officer?

Now that city council has formally asked Strickland to appoint Railings -- as has the NAACP, the police union and even protestors against police violence -- is Strickland wasting taxpayer money and the time of other law enforcement candidates to continue the charade of a "national search?"  Strickland announced that he will be interviewing five out-of-town candidates in August, and the mayor even posted their bios online.  What the mayor failed to say was how much that will cost the city in travel and related expenses.   

At this point Strickland would seem to have no choice, this side of a political death wish, but to appoint Rallings.  That's not to slight Rallings, who may be the best pick.   

Memphis native Anne Kirkpatrick recently was named to head the city of Chicago’s new Bureau of Professional Standards with the huge task of reforming police culture into a force of “guardians, not warriors,”  as reported by The Chicago Sun-Times.  Kirkpatrick was a Memphis patrol officer in the 1980s; moved to Washington state where she got a law degree, and then climbed a law enforcement ladder that included serving as a police chief and as a trainer of police brass for the FBI.  

While at first it didn't sound bad in theory to let the International Association of Chiefs of Police conduct a “national search” for a new police director, the process itself was hampered if it appeared to some elite police chief candidates that it was Rallings all the way.  Top cops read the tea leaves of Memphis in a way that the public and the media may not grasp.  The police chief in Memphis is appointed by the mayor, with city council's approval.  The process calls for no input from citizens.  

Having a “national search” further gave Strickland the political cover to say he had handed the job off to a neutral third party. 

Is the process ultimately flawed if it comes down to a political decision on the part of the mayor?  After Strickland announces in the near future that Rallings will be the permanent chief, there will be some who ask, Why did we spend $40K to find someone we already knew?

Politics aside, Strickland may feel he has a duty to other applicants to follow through, and he may learn something useful from interviewing the candidates.  The candidates may or may not feel their time is being wasted.  They get an expenses-paid trip to Memphis, where some are looking forward to tasting local cuisine, and they get the experience of going through such an interview and search process.  

Since the IACP won’t reveal details about a particular search – instead, referring inquiries to their client-municipality – and since no candidate names have been released other than five men whom the city released on Friday (six if you count Rallings), we may never know who else applied or who else was contacted and said, no, thanks, to Memphis and the IACP.  The Commercial Appeal has sued to find out that information, which speaks to the problem this or any city faces in such a situation.

Not all national candidates want their names associated with such a search, because it could cause trouble with their current employers.  Further, if you are publicly named as a candidate then not chosen, it makes your “stock drop” as one such law enforcement administrator told us. 

The five names released are “validating candidates,” another top law enforcement executive told us, and only one has "CEO" experience as a police chief.  They are there to validate that Rallings turned out to be the best choice, after all, following this “national search.”  

The candidates themselves would certainly disagree that they are straw men, and everyone who becomes a police chief has to have a first job -- just like Rallings who was promoted from within and is serving as chief for the first time. Top cop candidates from outside the city of Memphis point to the advantage of coming in fresh, unburdened by customs, culture blind spots or existing relationships that may be hard for a local guy to shake.  

Here is a link to the city of Memphis website which includes photos and bios of the six candidates:  http://www.memphistn.gov/Government/PoliceServices/PoliceDirectorCandidates.aspx

Looking over the candidates' resumes is nerdy, all right, but the kind of nerdiness citizens probably should exercise.  For one thing, we learned that Michael Rallings is a top pistol shot, having won several competitions.  We learned that one candidate has been police chief of an Indian reservation.  

One candidate, Inspector Joe Sullivan of Philadelphia PD, is about to be in the national spotlight as he will oversee the Democratic National Convention next week.  Sullivan is commanding officer of homeland security, counter-terrorism and special operations.  Sullivan is proud of his reputation for peacefully managing protests and says he is "working 16 hours a day" to make sure the DNC goes smoothly outside the arena.

Another candidate, Malik Aziz of the Dallas PD, has been in the national spotlight, regrettably, and interviewed by Dallas media after the killing of five officers who were staffing a protest July 8.  Aziz is deputy chief, Specialized Investigations Division, one of 15 division deputies on the Dallas force.

The only one of the five from outside Memphis who has served as a chief of police is Patrick Melvin, not currently affiliated with a police department.  Melvin's last job was police chief of a tribal reservation, the Salt River, AZ, Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.  The Salt River police force includes 118 sworn officers.  Before that, Melvin had been city of Maricopa, AZ, police chief, which includes 66 sworn officers.  Memphis has around 2,000 sworn officers. 

Melvin may be an example of a police chief who turned off his employer by applying for other jobs.  Melvin is on the executive board of the IACP -- the search entity that Memphis retained -- and formerly he was president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.  He recently has been in the running for the Phoenix chief job, and he sought the Seattle police chief job.  The tribal reservation put him on administrative leave in April, and Melvin quit two weeks later.  Melvin's interests in other, more visible jobs and his interest in being something of a national figure in law enforcement were cited by Arizona media as the reason for the rift.

We inadvertently looked at this subject during ongoing research for our documentary, Who Will Watch the Watchers?   In March we learned that Memphis native Kirkpatrick, former police chief of Spokane, Washington, and former No. 2 in command of the King County (Seattle) sheriff’s department, had been identified as one of the top two national chief of police candidates by the city of Chicago. 

The Chicago Police Board also recommended DeKalb County, Georgia, public safety director Dr. Cedric Alexander and one current Chicago PD administrator.  The Chicago Police Board had spent half a million dollars figuring out who was the best person to take over for Garry McCarthy, who was fired as superintendent after the coverup associated with the police killing of Laquan McDonald. 

Since Chicago had just gone through this process, and in an expensive and highly visible way, and found these two individuals to be the elite of the country, would it make sense for Memphis to consider them?  Especially since one was a Memphis native?  It seemed logical to us; too logical, probably, for politics.

In February, Strickland announced the city would retain IACP and the process would begin in about three weeks.  After attempting to explore whether Memphis was interested in Kirkpatrick or Alexander, we learned in May that the IACP had not yet posted the job, and the mayor’s PR operative, Ursula Madden, said the city’s human resources department still had some info they were getting together for IACP.  Madden also revealed that Strickland had asked Rallings to apply.  Two days after our inquiry, the job was posted May 6.  Subsequently, the IACP reached out to neither Kirkpatrick nor Alexander.  

Some top cop candidates are not going to apply on a website.  They expect to be recruited and courted.  Strickland had said that was one function of IACP, to recruit rather than sit back and see who applied online. 

The city of Chicago’s botched search for a police chief earlier this year may have weighed on how law enforcement executives have come to view such a process. 

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel first offered the job to Alexander, who has a degree in clinical psychology and who in 2015 was a member of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

However, under pressure from local politicians, Emanuel withdrew his offer to Alexander and named a new interim director – and the interim director was not even the local guy the board had recommended.  The man that Emanuel hand-picked, Eddie Johnson, now is Chicago's police chief.  So much for citizen input when the mayor rejects it all and picks his own man.  Like Memphis, in Chicago's system the police chief is appointed by the mayor with the approval of city council.  

Chicago’s police force is the second largest in the country, second only to New York City.  To be named the two top law enforcement candidates in the country after such a high-priced and highly visible search was on some level a boost to the professional stature of Kirkpatrick and Alexander.  Yet, it also exposed the pitfalls for an executive candidate whose name comes out publicly only to get tangled up in local politics.

While Mayor Emanuel was clumsily backing out of his offer to Alexander, he met privately for a third time with Kirkpatrick and told her he had a role in mind.  

Kirkpatrick considers herself a "change agent."  As a Memphian, Kirkpatrick would have uniquely been a police chief with local roots but also with a national perspective.  Instead, she will head up a brand new bureau created to oversee reform and culture change within Chicago PD.  Does that sound like anything Memphis could use about now? 

Immediately prior to taking the Chicago job, Kirkpatrick had worked for the FBI traveling around the country and conducting leadership training of law enforcement brass, including in Memphis.  Kirkpatrick has said she was impressed by the quality of the MPD leadership. 

Alexander has written a book entitled, The New Guardians: Policing in America’s Communities for the 21st Century, and he is exploring other projects including a documentary film.  Alexander "LOL'd" us over the idea of his applying for the Memphis job.  

Momentum for Strickland to name Rallings the permanent chief exploded amid public praise for how Rallings showed up and facilitated the de-occupation by citizens of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge across the Mississippi River on Sunday July 10.  Now that city council -- and even protestors against police killing unarmed black men -- have called for Rallings to be the permanent chief, a new guy would have to overcome community sentiment against the mayor's choosing anyone but Rallings.  

One of the organizers of the protest, DeVante Hill, was so enthralled by Rallings that he called for Strickland to immediately name Rallings the permanent chief.  Rallings had walked arm-in-arm with Hill on the bridge as both sought a way to back down and save face, a la Richard Nixon's "peace with honor" upon fleeing Viet Nam.  Rallings thus succeeded in co-opting Hill and others to leave on the promise that they would talk it over later.  

While approximately $40,000 was the fee the city said it paid to the police search group, there will be other costs attendant to the process, such as travel and expenses related to bringing the five other candidates into the city for interviews, etc.  Should Strickland immediately cut off costs to taxpayers and not waste the time of token candidates? 

The sooner Strickland wraps this up, the sooner the police force and the community will get a measure of easing.
  

Chicago Sun-Times story about Anne Kirkpatrick: 

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