Three finalists for the position of Eugene’s next Police Chief have been brought to the city. KLCC’s Brian Bull met with the candidates, and has this report.
Chris Skinner is currently Chief of Police in Richland, Washington. A 27-year veteran, Skinner has also worn a badge in Hillsboro, Oregon, and for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. When asked about how he’d address Eugene’s homeless situation, Skinner said police can definitely have a role.
“This isn’t about throwing people in jail, this isn’t about policing our homeless," Skinner tells KLCC. "We need to understand that we have a lack of shelter space and we need to address that.
"And so the police department can be strong advocates for people, can be strong advocates for social service providers, and strong advocates at City Hall when it comes to trying to put public dollars towards a solution.”
A second finalist, Mike Lester, has 28 years under his belt, including his current job as Assistant Police Chief for the City of Vancouver, Washington. When asked his take on a recent Register-Guard report that showed Eugene Police did not address one-third of service calls, Lester shared his approach to the issue.
“It’s good to start with a gaps analysis of the department, identifying how many sworn staff needs to be added to enhance service," advises Lester. "But also looking at what other non-sworn staffing can we can bring on. Like community service officers or from the agency that I’m from, we had police service technicians, and they can handle the calls that don’t need a gun and a badge at the scene.”
And finally, Bruce Marquis currently is Training Programs Manager for the U.S. State Department, but has 40 years law enforcement experience, including being Police Chief in Norfolk, Virginia, and Houston’s Independent School District. Among the accomplishments he’s proud of, was starting a Youth Police Academy while he was in Norfolk.
“It was for 5th graders as they were moving on to middle school," says Marquis. "We wanted to make them aware of some of the pitfalls, y’know getting involved with the wrong people and the wrong things. Brought the kids in once a week, and it was exposure to policing and other issues. Gang violence, and drugs, it was a very successful program.”
The three finalists will be at a public forum tonight (3/13) at 5:30 at Harris Hall, 125 East 8th Ave. Questions can be submitted before the forum at firstname.lastname@example.org and the event will also be featured as a webcast.
The City Manager’s Office expects to hire Eugene’s new police chief by March 23rd.
WEB EXTRA: EXTENDED QUESTIONS & ANSWERS WITH EPD CHIEF FINALISTS
Eugene Police communications staff arranged one-on-one media interviews with the three finalists for EPD’s Chief of Police position. KLCC – and other media organizations – were given five minutes with each candidate. Questions and responses below.
QUESTION ONE: Nationwide, police departments have worked to improve community relations. What’s your best practice for instilling trust and cooperation with the communities you serve?
Chris Skinner, Chief of Police in Richland, Washington:
"Brian, I think one of the things is important for us to take into consideration as chiefs and leaders of our organization is it always start with the type of people we’re hiring. Anytime we’re trying to put together an organization that we’re asking to going out and connect with the community, and to build that trust, it’s on the backs of the capabilities of our law enforcement professionals that are doing it.
“And so when I’m hiring people today, I’m looking less for some of the hard skills, and looking more for the soft skills, in police officers, or potential police officers and candidates, and that’s levels of empathy and compassion, and the ability to be objective and treat people with dignity and respect under all circumstances.
“And I think that’s really important, and I think that’s been a cultural shift for law enforcement over the last decade or two. That we’ve learned that we can teach you how to be police officer but what we’re having difficulty teaching you to do is to have those high levels of emotional intelligence and the ability to be relational with your community. I think that’s really, really important.
“The other piece I would say is putting officers into opportunities and putting them in places where they can have connections with the community is important. Answering our calls for services is not where we have an opportunity to build relationships. That’s certainly an opportunity that we get to protect our brand, and people can have a unique brand experience with the organization in that situation. But I think you have to create space for officers to engage the community, with their undedicated time, or their uncommitted time, and putting them into position to be able to do that is really important.”
Mike Lester, Assistant Police Chief in Vancouver, Washington:
"My best practice and what I have found with meeting those concerns in the community is really being transparent, and having those face to face opportunities, getting out into the community and understanding their concerns of what’s kind of what’s going on with them. And really trying to address it, and come to a mutual agreement, and understanding of what their concerns are and how we can address that as an agency and as a community."
Bruce Marquis, U.S. State Department training programs consultation manager:
"Well, I’ve done this as chief of police, in three different police depts. I’m a firm believer of community policing, I’m a lifelong –if you will- public servant. So my job as chief of police -both professional and personally - is to make sure we’re doing everything we can to improve safety and security of the community. We have to make sure the programs under that philosophy of community policing are the right programs in serving the particular community.
"For instance, we always want to keep children as safe as possible, and see them on way through their educational process. So at Norfolk, for instance, we started a youth police academy. And it was for 5th graders as they were moving onto middle school. We wanted to make them aware of some of the pitfalls, going to middle school. You know, getting involved with the wrong people and the wrong things. Brought kids in once a week, we fed them as part of our program, but again, it was exposure to policing and other issues. Gang violence, and drugs, and those sorts of things. It was a very successful program."
QUESTION TWO: A recent Register-Guard newspaper report shows that Eugene Police did not address a third of service calls, due to there not always being enough personnel to address the volume. Low priority calls have been delayed or ignored, with police committing to emergency or immediate situations. Is this something you’d like to address? How?
“Absolutely, and I think that’ll take some significant analysis on our part to really get the root cause, of the cause-and-effect relationship to that most recent report. Y’know, staffing may be part of that, but I’m not willing to…until I’m able to do the analysis, I’m not willing to say staffing is the only reason that we’re having that issue.
“But I will say that the important piece of having healthy staffs is, the balance between our committed and uncommitted time – I talked a little bit about that earlier -- with our uncommitted time, that’s when police officers are really able to engage in community policing activities, and really start building those relationships in the neighborhoods and business districts that we need to do. So I think it’s gonna be really important for the new chief –whoever it is – to come in and do an analysis of that, and see if we can get those response times down and actually get those calls for service handed.”
“Yes, I think it’s one of the priorities to address as the next chief of police. I think it’s good to start with kind of a gaps analyses of the department, of what’s working and not working, what services is the department currently providing, what the department isn’t providing.
"And then then looking at identifying how many sworn staff needs to be added to the department to enhance service, but also looking at other methods of service.
"And in saying that, I mean…what other non-sworn staffing can we bring on. Like community service officers or from the agency I’m from, police service technicians, they can handle the calls that don’t need a gun or a badge at the scene. They are low priority, no suspect there are the time. No suspect contacts at the time, so they’re taking some of the cold calls, and that helps alleviate the calls that are pending for sworn officers to respond to. So I think it’s really a good process to review the department, look at some gaps analysis, and identify the next steps moving forward. What does that staffing and additional staffing look like, for the department?”
“Our job is to respond. And the response is our way of providing a service to community. If one-third of the calls are not being responded to, then has to be addressed. We have to find out why. Is it matter of staffing, is it a matter of not clearing officers from perhaps other calls and sending them to…in other words, is it a supervisory, or management issue? So there’s a lot of things here that someone has to take a look at and see if we can’t rectify. But it is my understanding however, that staffing may be one of the primary issues, as to why this is taking place, in the long time, when officers do get on call. Or when they are called rather, and so we have to look at it.”
QUESTION THREE: Eugene struggles with high rates of homelessness, and the city is often in a balancing act between accommodating so-called “travelers” and making residents, tourists, and small-business owners feel safe. Do you have an approach or philosophy when it comes to this situation?
“So, what I will tell you is that we’re not going to police our way out of this situation. Or we’re not going to jail our way out of this situation. This isn’t about throwing people in jail, this isn’t about policing our homeless, I just don’t think that’s going to be an effective approach to what we’re doing. I think one of the things that this police department can do in a coalition-style atmosphere, with our social service providers and our other leaders in the community, is to identify the gaps that would help relieve some of the pressure points that we’re seeing in the downtown core.
"And one of those gaps may be something as simple as shelter space. Or the lack of shelter space, I think that’s an important piece of this, is that we need to understand that we have a lack of shelter space and we need to address that. And so the police department can be strong advocates for people, can be strong advocates for social service providers, and strong advocates at city hall when it comes to trying to put public dollars towards a solution.”
“I think dealing with homelessness is a community response. While the police have a part of that response, we’re not the sole entity responsible for addressing that. So it’s really working you’re your community partners again, working with outreach social services, faith-based organizations, and developing a plan that works for the community, that there’s outreach occurring, there’s resources available, that can go out and assess the needs, meet with members that are homelessness or suffering from homelessness in a community, and have a plan and the ability and services to offer…to try to help reduce that.”
“Well, everyone should be treated the same by the police. Alright? As long as you’re in the city, you’re a customer. And as long as you’re not violating any city ordinances or committing any crimes, then you should be treated the same. I think the message we need to get out to the homeless, or travelers, is to make sure that they understand that they’re here as guests of the city. And they have to be respectful, we have city residents here,we have families, and they have to feel comfortable within their own city.
"So it’s…the police that provide a service, make sure that service is applied equally, and equitably across the board to everyone. But we don’t want people who are –again - violating or ignoring city ordinances or committing crimes.”
QUESTION FOUR: What is something you’ve learned in your last position that you hope to bring to Eugene, if made police chief?
“I think one of the things that I learned in my last position – is I, as a new chief going into that organization -- I was an outside selection for that organization, is understanding that this police department has got a lot of really, really hardworking men and women, and there’s a level of anxiety. Anytime you change leadership, there’s a level of anxiety for them as to not understanding or knowing what is going…what their future holds.
"I think one of the things that’ll be important for me as a leader, not only connecting with this community, but understanding that the care and feeding of our people is going to be really important. Helping them have a sense of relevance for what they do, and how important they are to the livability that we are experiencing here in Eugene. And so my experience around coming into new organization and beginning to assimilate very quickly, and analyze, and make those connections and relationships with employees is going to be really important.”
“Probably leadership, is being transparent with a staff. Going out on ride-alongs, having conversations, understanding really what’s going on in the department. I mean, the chief is responsible for ultimately all decisions that are made, but it’s getting that feedback and input, and making staff feel important and included.
"So that inclusion with our staff, so that’s one of the things I would like to bring is just getting to know people and understanding, that having them be a part of that departmental decision-making and identifying those rising stars, and that succession planning for that agency. So as I leave this department, it’s better than the day when I got here. And we have plans in place and leadership in place, and opportunities for everyone to grow and develop as law enforcement professionals.”
“If you say you’re going to do something, then do it. Y’know, if you operate under the philosophy of community policing then let’s make sure you do operate under that philosophy, and that it’s not just a bunch of words. If I make a commitment, then I always stand up to my commitments, it’s as simple as that. And it should be the same with the police department. We do provide a service as community servants. We are supposed to be committed to providing a service, and keeping the community safe and secure. And those are things that we need to adhere to, so for me, I will reinforce those commitments and make sure that we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”
Copyright 2018, KLCC.