COLUMBIA, SC — About the candidates
All five finalists for the Columbia police chief job have experience leading law enforcement agencies, but none has ties to departments in the Midlands.
The finalists, who were named Tuesday, include a retiree from Spartanburg, an Air Force colonel, a former chief from a Virginia department, a West Virginia chief and a Maryland man who leads a state agency.
One notable absence from the list was interim Chief Ruben Santiago, who has been leading Columbia’s department since April.
City manager Teresa Wilson released the names of finalists and short biographies on Tuesday amidst planning for a winter storm that was bringing a mix of rain, ice and snow to the region. The candidates will begin a three-day interview process next week that will include time with Wilson, members of the committees involved in the hiring, City Council, Columbia police officers and the public. A public forum is scheduled for Feb. 19 at City Hall.
The five finalists are:
• Tony Fisher, retired director of the Spartanburg Department of Public Safety
• William “Skip” Holbrook, Huntington, W. Va., Police Department chief
• Bryan Norwood, former Richmond, Va., Police Department chief
• Charles Rapp, executive director of the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Division
• Gregory Reese, chief of security forces for the Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.
The hire will be the most important decision Wilson has made as city manager as she tries to bring stability to the city’s most high profile department. The next chief will be the eighth person to lead the department in seven years.
The finalists were chosen byfive members of a search committee named by Wilson, each of whom has experience in law enforcement. Wilson said she gave the committee guidance on what type of chief she wanted and attended some of the meetings. But the selection largely was made by the committee, she said.
“It’s their work,” she said.
The committee began with a pool of 50 applicants and did video interviews with 12 before selecting the five finalists.
Wilson said she was pleased with the finalists’ talent and qualifications. The next chief needs a broad range of law enforcement experience and professional certifications. But he also needs to understand the dynamics of serving in Columbia, including the political climate and the expectations of community groups, she said.
Wilson also wants someone who will consider Columbia home.
“These five have demonstrated that level of commitment and understanding of what they will be working with,” Wilson said. “We want someone willing to take those things on up front and stay for the duration.”
Tension over the search had been mounting as word leaked that a list of finalists had been created. Already, the search has been controversial as the city manager and mayor disagreed over how to conduct the search and while many in the community lobbied Wilson to hire Santiago.
After the finalists were announced, Santiago issued a statement to say it had been a privilege to lead the department for the better part of the past year. He served two short stints as acting chief before being named interim chief in April.
Santiago said the list of candidates was impressive and called it an exciting time for the department.
“No matter who is ultimately chosen, we still have a job to do for the citizens of Columbia,” Santiago’s statement said. “I look forward to being a part of the new team.”
When job qualifications were announced in November, the city said the minimum qualifications included eight years of experience as a captain or higher and a master’s degree. Santiago had six years of command experience and was a few hours short of his master’s degree.
Santiago also is the subject of an ongoing corruption allegation, and the 13th Circuit Solicitor’s office says it has not finished reviewing the FBI and SLED reports in the case.
Wilson said she was aware of the community support but “the interim chief’s qualifications did not allow him to move forward. I’m standing by the process.”
Santiago will return to his former position as deputy chief, Wilson said.
“He was serving at our pleasure,” Wilson said. “Obviously, we appreciate his efforts.”
It appears at least one candidate is familiar with the turmoil that can accompany a police chief’s job.
Norwood resigned as the Richmond Police Department chief in March 2013 citing strained relationships and disagreements within city management, according to a story in the Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper.
The story said Norwood was popular with the city’s faith community and activists. Before his resignation, Norwood’s department had come under scrutiny by prosecutors in Los Angeles, who questioned the accounting by Richmond police of the community service hours singer Chris Brown performed in Virginia to fulfill a California court order on an assault charge, the newspaper said.
Wilson said the committee was aware of that situation.
“Often times there are multiple sides to any story and political issues that must be brought to bear,” she said.
About the candidates
Fisher retired in 2013 as director of Spartanburg’s public safety department, where he oversaw the police and fire departments. Also has served as chief of Takoma Park, Md., police department and as an officer in the Montgomery County Police Department in Rockville, Md. Has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland.
Holbrook is chief of the Huntington, W. Va., police department, which has 126 employees, including 111 officers, and a $12 million budget. He also has worked as an officer in the Charlotte Police Department. Graduated from the FBI Academy. Has a master’s degree from Pfeiffer University.
Norwood is a former chief of the Richmond Police Department in Virginia. The department has 760 officers and an $79 million budget. He also has served as a police chief in Bridgeport, Conn., and in New Haven, Conn. Also served as a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency special agent in New York City. Has a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University in Virginia.
Rapp is executive director of the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Division, a state agency that provides regulatory oversight and training to corrections and police agencies. Served in several positions with the Baltimore County Police Department, including as captain of the police training academy, criminal investigations division and hostage negotiation team. Has a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.
Reese is chief of security forces for the Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, where he is responsible for 2,000 officers. He is a 23-year Air Force veteran with experience as chief of four military police departments. Has a master’s degree from the University of South Carolina.
Have a question for a candidate?
A public forum for the five police chief candidates will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 19 at City Hall’s council chambers, 1737 Main St. To submit a question for the candidates, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail it to Gardner Johnson, Department of Human Resources, 1225 Lady St., Columbia, SC. 29201. Questions must be received by Feb. 17. Please submit one question per city resident.
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.