Posts Tagged ‘police chief’

Over a year ago, the chief of police in Pittsburgh resigned during a corruption scandal.  (He subsequently pled guilty and has been sentenced to eighteen months in federal prison.)  Very shortly after that, the incumbent mayor announced he would not seek re-election and would leave the selection of a new chief to the next Mayor.

In one of the posts I wrote about these events, I asked what process a new mayor should follow in searching for a new chief.

Mayor Bill Peduto took office in January of 2014, and announced that he would first select a new Public Safety Director.  (In Pittsburgh, the Public Safety Director oversees not only the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, but also EMS and fire services. )  The Mayor would appoint a new chief after that, with the advice of the new Public Safety Director.

The new Public Safety Director, Stephen Bucar has begun his job (he is acting Director, since the City Council has not yet confirmed him).  An article in today’s Pittsburgh-Post Gazette describes the porcess that the Mayor and the Public Safety Director plan to follow:

Six months after Mayor Bill Peduto took office, he announced plans Wednesday to conduct a series of public meetings aimed at giving officials insight into what residents hope to find in a new Pittsburgh police chief.The mayor, through a spokesman, outlined plans to conduct meetings in conjunction with the public safety councils at each of the city’s six neighborhood police stations.He also unveiled a new website where people can leave their suggestions….“This is going to be a public outreach directly to the people of Pittsburgh asking them what they want in a police chief,” Mr. Peduto said in a statement.

The  article also mentions a “search committee tasked with developing a list of candidates for the Mayor and [Mr.] Bucar to consider,” but gives no detail about the committee, its composition, or its duties.

This process is leaps-and-bounds different from the usual way that Pittsburgh mayors have made high-level appointments.  The pubic has a chance to have input.  Though it’s less than clear how much what the public wants will matter, the step of opening the process up means that the Mayor recognizes just how important this appointment is to the public.  In my opinion, the citizens of Pittsburgh should give the Mayor and the process the benefit of the doubt as we go forward.

Readers: what do you think of the process outlined here?  What would you do differently?  What did your city do differently when it last faced this choice?
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How would you set up the the process to pick a new chief of police for a mid-sized city?

Amidst a corruption scandal, Pittsburgh’s police chief resigned this Spring.  (He has announced he’ll plead guilty to the charges against him.)  This happened with an election for mayor already underway; a short time later, the heavily-favored incumbent dropped out of the race and announced that he would leave the choice of a new chief to his successor.  In a post on March 6 (here), I spelled out what my criteria would be for a picking a new chief.  These included unquestioned integrity, experience as a chief or deputy chief in a police department not less than half the size of Pittsburgh, and a commitment to diversity of all kinds in the ranks.  I said that no excellent candidate, whether an insider or an outsider, should be ignored, and that the process of selection the new chief would be critical, given the circumstances of the chief’s resignation.

Imagine that you have the ear of the new mayor-to-be.  (Which candidate this is will be largely determined in the Democratic Party primary, one week from today; whoever wins the primary is overwhelmingly likely to win the general election in November.) What would be your advice on how the process of selecting the new chief should work?  I can think of a number of possibilities, including:

1) Put together a small group of experts — present and former chiefs of police, law enforcement experts, etc. — to give private, candid advice to the mayor-to-be, regarding what to look for in a successful chief.

2) Create a citizens advisory board to advise the mayor on this important choice.

3) Hold a town hall meeting or two to gather a large and wide swath of public comments on the choice.

4) Conduct focus groups, each with members drawn from all of the important stakeholder groups: citizens, rank and file officers, police union officials, the faith community, the business community, neighborhood advocates, etc., to ascertain what kind of person, with what kind of qualities, the mayor should look for.

What are your ideas?  Have you been through this process before, in any role?  I would very much like to hear from anyone and everyone with thoughts on this.  The choice is coming for Pittsburgh, and it’s going to be crucial.

Thanks for your help.

In a post last week, I discussed the choice of a new chief of police in Pittsburgh.  Nathan Harper, the Chief of the Bureau for seven years, had been forced to resign by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl amidst an ongoing FBI investigation into police department finances.  (Mr. Harper has not been charged; the investigation continues.)  Then, just days later, the Mayor announced that he would not run for re-election in November.  With all of this happening, I was among a group of people who testified before the City Council last week on the selection of the new chief.  There was broad agreement on a central point: outgoing Mayor Ravenstahl should not appoint a new chief.  Instead, an acting chief should serve until the next may makes the permanent appointment.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Monday that he would not appoint a permanent chief to the embattled police bureau during his remaining 10 months in office and instead will leave the choice to his successor.  “It wouldn’t be fair in my mind to the next mayor to not have him or her have the chance to choose their chief, especially given all the recent activity around the bureau,” he said.

According to a story on WESA FM, Pittsburgh public radio, Ravenstahl said he would not appoint the next chief because with ten months left in his term, the decision would be “extremely rushed” and therefore should be left to his successor.

Whatever the reason, I think this is a good decision.  I can’t conceive that we would be able to attract top-quality candidates for the post knowing that the administration will change in the next year.  Who would take the job under those circumstances?  One reader suggested appointing a new chief as soon as possible, and writing a contract that would essentially guarantee the new chief a term that would extend into the new mayor’s term even if the mayor didn’t like it.  But that won’t work.  The chief (as I imagine is true in most places) serves at the pleasure of the mayor as a matter of law.  No contract can change this.

Thus the naming of the new chief will have to wait for the outcome of the mayoral election.  In the meantime, the federal investigation continues, and more revelations appear in the press by the day.  The only thing for sure is that the next chief is likely to start with a mandate for clean up and change.


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?