On Feb. 20, Pittsburgh Police Chief Nathan Harper resigned at the request of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. Harper quit amidst a federal investigation of corruption allegations involving police department contracting and possible misuse of funds from unauthorized bank accounts. (Harper has not been charged with any wrongdoing.)
Pittsburgh now faces a situation that cities all over American face periodically: the selection of a new chief. In Pittsburgh, the mayor makes the selection, but as you would guess, many people are voicing their opinions on what matters in the selection of the new chief. All of this became even more complicated when, just days after forcing Harper’s resignation, Mayor Ravenstahl unexpectedly abandoned his bid for re-election. (The Mayor denied that the investigation played any part in his decision; he has not been charged.) So at this point we have an acting chief, a lame duck Mayor serving out the remaining ten months of his term, and an unresolved investigation.
On March 6, Pittsburgh’s City Council will hold a public hearing on the choice of the new chief; I have been invited to give testimony. Here are a few of the points I’ll make.
Pick now, or wait? Given that we know we will have a new mayor in less than a year, Mayor Ravenstahl should strongly consider staying with an acting chief, and allowing the new mayor to select the new chief. Since there is a reasonable chance that the new mayor will simply prefer to have his or her own chief running the department, we should wait.
Insider or outsider? Candidates from inside and outside the department each have their advantages. Insiders would know the lay of the land, and would bring continuity. An outsider would bring fresh eyes to the situation and might be more willing to make needed changes. Ultimately, it depends on whether we think the department should continue heading down the same path, or should get a fresh perspective from the top down. I would hesitate to rule out any excellent inside candidate, but with the ongoing investigation, a fresh perspective seems necessary.
Integrity is paramount. With the ongoing scandal, nothing is more important than restoring the reputation of the agency in the eyes of the public. For that reason, the next chief must be not only a very good police officer and a strong leader, but a person of unquestioned integrity.
Experience is key. This is not the time for someone to learn on the job how to be a chief and an administrator. Whoever is picked should have experience as a chief or deputy chief in a department that is at least half the size of Pittsburgh’s. The person should also have experience working with communities in the city to meet their goals, and an unquestioned commitment to working as partners with citizens as part of real community policing.
Diversity in the ranks. I’ve been working with the Pittsburgh Police command staff for some years, as well as a number of other departments in our county. There is universal agreement among them that their agencies do not have sufficient racial, ethnic, or gender diversity. There is strong disagreements about how to become more diverse. Nevertheless, the next chief must bring a rock-solid commitment to diversity in the ranks, and a willingness to closely re-examine current recruitment and hiring practices.
Process cannot be ignored. The search should be real (not wired for an insider), and must be nationwide. And it should include input from a citizen’s advisory board formed for this purpose, which would interview all of the final candidates and give the mayor feedback on them.
Those are my six crucial considerations. What would yours be?