The city has launched a national search for a new police chief after more than six months of having the embattled department run by an interim leader.
City Manager Teresa Wilson said she is moving forward even though a corruption investigation into Interim Chief Ruben Santiago and one of his former captains is ongoing.
A few months ago, Wilson had said she would wait for the investigation to conclude after City Council members expressed concern over finding quality candidates with such a cloud hanging over the department.
Because I dont have any indication of when it will be complete I decided to move forward, Wilson said Tuesday. I cannot continue to manage the city and expect our city, the public and the officers to not have a clear direction of where the leadership is going to be.
The hiring process will include input from other law enforcement, business leaders, neighborhood association members and representatives from hospitality districts. Wilson expects to have a new chief in place by March.
Qualified applicants have until Dec. 11 to apply for the job, which will pay $89,246 to $115,869 annually, according to the job posting on the citys website.
Hiring a chief will be one of the most important decisions in Wilsonss tenure as city manager as she tries to bring stability to a department that has had more than its share of controversy. The department has 460 employees, including 385 officers.
The next chief will become the eighth person to run the department since 2007.
Santiago has been in charge since May, after former chief Randy Scott took an unexplained leave of absence and then returned to hold a tearful, rambling press conference to say he was resigning because of post-traumatic stress disorder.
In July, the corruption investigation was launched after former Capt. David Navarro accused Santiago of asking him to take drugs and guns from a crime scene so they could be planted in an assistant city managers car. Navarro also is under investigation after Santiago accused him of shredding documents without permission and possibly misappropriating Columbia Police Foundation money.
Most recently, the police department has been criticized for its policing in Five Points, the popular nightlife area that has been plagued by violence. Criticism reached a tipping point in October when 18-year-old USC freshman was paralyzed after being hit by a stray bullet.
The shooting led Sheriff Leon Lott to send deputies into Five Points for an unannounced operation and then hold a press conference to urge the city to follow his tactics.
Despite the turmoil, Wilson said she expects qualified applicants to apply for the job.
Unfortunately, weve had a lot of high profile issues but our officers are solving the cases, she said. I would hope the candidates and applicants would focus on the positive things going on in this department.
Another potential issue for any future police chief is the upcoming referendum on a strong mayor form of government. If voters approve it, then the mayor would be the chiefs boss not Wilson come July 1.
For years, department insiders have complained that the chiefs job is made even more difficult by the multiple bosses he serves. In Columbia, the chief not only reports to an assistant city manager and city manager but is expected to be responsive to the seven City Council members as well as neighborhood and business association leaders.
Wilson said she is looking for a chief who has the firmness to navigate the citys political waters while possessing the people skills necessary to relate to the public. The communitys strong interest in its police department should not deter applicants, she said.