COLUMBIA, SC — Forty people have applied to be the next Columbia Police Department chief, with less than 24 hours until the application deadline.
City manager Teresa Wilson said 11 of the applicants are from South Carolina, including two internal candidates. She updated City Council on the search during a Tuesday afternoon work session by providing statistics about the applicant pool and defending her decision to not use a national search firm.
Applicants also come from seven other states, including Washington, Virginia, Florida and New York. Of the 40, 12 are minorities but no women have applied for the job, Wilson said.
Eighteen applicants already have experience as a police chief and another five have served as deputy chief.
The application deadline closes at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
The next step in the search involves Pam Benjamin, the city’s human resources director, screening the applications and determining who meets the eligibility requirements spelled out in the job description. Pam Benjamin is not related to the mayor.
“We’re waiting until the application deadline closes before we start screening,” Wilson said.
The Columbia Police Department has been running under the direction of interim Chief Ruben Santiago since April. He was appointed interim chief after Randy Scott resigned, citing post-traumatic stress disorder.
The next chief will be the eighth person to lead the department since 2007.
The chief is the most high-profile job in the city, and the job is complicated because he must answer to an assistant city manager and city manager as well as City Council and neighborhood leaders who carry plenty of political clout.
Wilson was reminded again Tuesday about the seriousness of the decision.
Mayor Steve Benjamin again urged Wilson to hire a national search firm to help the city find the best chief.
But Wilson said she was confident the nationwide search conducted by city staff has turned up qualified candidates. If not, she would be willing to consider hiring a professional firm.
“I’ve heard you loud and clear from the beginning that you wanted a national search,” Wilson said. “What are you trying to accomplish? Do you want a national search or a national search firm?”
Benjamin eventually backed off, saying the city needed to move forward because it has been operating too long without a permanent police chief.
He told Wilson that he wanted to see significant progress in the search by council’s next meeting Jan. 7.
According to a timeline released by Wilson at the beginning of the search, the pool of applicants will be narrowed by the end of the month, and the first round of interviews will begin Jan. 6.
Wilson has assembled a committee to help her determine the best candidates. She also asked City Council members to nominate people to participate in a community committee that will help interview candidates.
Wilson and Pam Benjamin promised there will be plenty of public involvement in the search.
“The goal, honestly, is to be as open and inclusive as possible,” Pam Benjamin said. “But we have to keep it structured and focused.”