Editorial: So far, so good in search for new Columbia police chief

February 15, 2014 

Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson will hire a new police chief from amont five finalists.

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com Buy Photo

— WE COMMEND Columbia city manager Teresa Wilson for conducting an open, lawful search for a police chief and urge her to maintain that posture until a new top cop is chosen.

With a search committee having identified five finalists just days earlier, Ms. Wilson followed state law and released those names on Tuesday.

We shouldn’t have to pat public officials on the back for following the law, but it’s so rare these days for local governments — and even some state institutions such as colleges — to follow the rules requiring the names of at least three finalists to be released to the public before anyone is hired.

It’s important for members of the public to know who is being considered to lead the police department so they can provide feedback that might aid Ms. Wilson as she chooses the eighth person to lead the department since 2007. This easily will be the most important decision Ms. Wilson has made in her short tenure as city manager. Citizens across the city are demanding improved police protection amid rising gang violence and other safety concerns.

The next police chief must be an experienced, capable leader skilled enough to address safety concerns, connect with the community, survive the rigors of Columbia city government and, above all, last for more than a year or two.

People move to Columbia and agree to pay higher taxes in part for a higher level of police protection. But for years now, the Police Department has faced embarrassing scandals and a revolving door at the chief’s office.

From all appearances, the five-member search committee assembled by Ms. Wilson has identified a strong field of candidates; all five have experience leading law enforcement agencies. On the list are a retiree from Spartanburg, an Air Force colonel, a former chief from a Virginia department, a West Virginia chief and a the head of a Maryland state agency.

Interim chief Ruben Santiago, who has led the department since April and was the favorite among many in the community, did not make the final cut but deserves a thank you for stepping in at a critical time following the sudden and unexpected departure of former Chief Randy Scott. Mr. Santiago is expected to return to the position of deputy chief.

In addition to bringing the candidates in for closed-door interviews, Ms. Wilson is opening the process up — as has happened in times past — to allow the public to observe them during a public forum from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall’s council chambers, 1737 Main St. Citizens can submit a question for the candidates via email at columbiahr@columbiasc.net. Questions must be received by Monday. We encourage the public to be involved in this process and let their voices be heard.

Obviously, it is essential for Ms. Wilson to be in close communication with Columbia City Council as she approaches this important decision. But as city manager, it is her decision to make. Once she makes a selection, council members must resist a return to past practices of micro-managing the police chief and allow him to do is job.

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