Columbia police

Aim is to hire new Columbia police chief by fall

nophillips@thestate.comJuly 6, 2013 

— The calls have been coming in to the city manager’s office from people interested in becoming Columbia’s next police chief.

But more than two months since former chief Randy Scott resigned in an emotional press conference, no plans are in place to pick his successor.

City manager Teresa Wilson said she anticipates hiring a new chief by September. She plans to post a job description and begin the selection process soon, she said.

But Wilson declined to say what the requirements will be for candidates.

Instead, she plans to hold a news conference later this month where, “I will lay it all out for you.”

The hiring of a new police chief will be the most important personnel decision Wilson will have made during her six-month tenure as city manager. The police chief is a high-profile city employee, and his work is closely watched by City Council, whose members often run for office on public safety platforms and constituency issues.

The selection of a new chief also is crucial for the morale and stability of the Columbia Police Department, which has suffered for years from a revolving door in the chief’s office. And those chiefs haven’t always left amicably – Scott’s predecessor was fired in May 2010 after refusing to turn over to the S.C. Highway Patrol an investigation into a serious car wreck involving then-Mayor-Elect Steve Benjamin.

Wilson said the search will be conducted by City Hall staffers, not a national firm. And she will engage community leaders, including people from law enforcement and neighborhoods, in the search. She did not say what form that public input will take.

Scott earned $112,000 a year. Wilson has not decided if she will offer the same salary to the new chief.

“We will look at the market and what would be an accurate range for that level of law enforcement official,” she said.

When Scott was hired as interim chief in the fall of 2010, he seemed to be the answer to the struggling metropolitan police department. He quickly put a new management team in place and set about making changes, including hiring new officers and creating new policing teams. He also improved the department’s records-keeping and crime analysis capabilities.

Then-city manager Steve Gantt said hiring Scott was one of his best decisions. Mayor Steve Benjamin was so proud of Scott’s accomplishments that he nominated Scott for the state’s prestigious Strom Thurmond Law Enforcement Award, which Scott received.

But Scott’s tenure came to a sudden, unexpected end.

Scott mysteriously took a leave of absence in April. His time off was announced in a news release, and Wilson told The State newspaper that she had been considering disciplinary action against Scott. She would not elaborate on problems.

Scott was gone for 20 days, and then returned to hold a tearful press conference during which he announced his resignation, citing work-related stress that had triggered a previously unknown case of post-traumatic stress disorder. Scott said therapy had uncovered the PTSD that resulted from the 2005 traffic death of a Richland County sheriff’s deputy, whom Scott had hired and supervised.

Scott returned to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. His former deputy chief, Ruben Santiago, was named interim chief.

Santiago has expressed interest in the job.

But so have others, Wilson said. She said she has received several phone calls from interested candidates from across the Southeast. She doesn’t believe the previous turnover in the chief’s office is deterring potential candidates.

“It doesn’t seem to be, if the amount of interest I’ve received is indicative,” she said.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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