If anything is tougher than hiring a school superintendent, it’s hiring a police chief.
With so many stakeholders involved — labor groups, crime watch volunteers, civic leaders, government watchdogs — the task was complicated even before recent events brought rising concern over equal justice and the decision process on deadly force.
From a first look at the six finalists to become chief in Fort Worth, though, the city has attracted an encouraging lineup of candidates, both from inside the department and outside.
Two have worked as city chiefs, one in Pennsylvania and another in Washington state, and know the pressure and politics of that role. Two others served as top assistants in Houston and San Antonio, and one was on the short list for the Houston chief’s job.
The local candidates, assistant chiefs Kenneth Dean and Abdul Pridgen, bring not only knowledge of the city but also dedication to the local plan for community policing and Citizens on Patrol. They know by heart the story of how the once-high crime rate led voters to pass a sales tax for crimefighting and cut that crime rate by half.
That extra money, along with new facilities, may be in part what makes this job attractive. More than one of the candidates speaking at a community forum last week admired the new $97 million Bob Bolen Public Safety Complex, a shared police-fire training center in an old federal warehouse complex.
Former Houston executive assistant Chief Kirk A. Munden, coming from a strife-prone community grieving the recent death of a deputy, also praised the “Main Street Back the Blue” support rally downtown.
But several candidates acknowledged the deep-seated concerns behind national strife. It’s telling that both of the experienced chiefs, Joel Fitzgerald of Allentown, Pa., and former Spokane, Wash., Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, put emphasis on building community trust and made similar comments about how “if you wait until you need it, that’s too late.”
The forum was basically a public introduction. The competition now proceeds to interviews by city staff, community and labor groups.
The decision is solely up to City Manager David Cooke. He faces no deadline, but a permanent chief is needed soon to begin molding the department’s future.