Madison's police chief job likely to be attractive outside department

2013-12-09T09:00:00Z Madison's police chief job likely to be attractive outside departmentNICO SAVIDGE | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6147

With a talented, well-educated and diverse police force, Madison should generate plenty of interest from people outside the department seeking to be its next chief, according to local officials and experts.

And one potential applicant says the conventional wisdom about what it means to hire from within, or look beyond the department’s staff, likely doesn’t apply to this search.

Five Madison Police Department members have said they’re interested in the job, which the city’s Police and Fire Commission officially posted last week. Those five are Sgt. Mike Koval, Interim Chief Randy Gaber, Capt. Joe Balles, Capt. Carl Gloede and Officer Dean Baldukas.

The commission decided in October it would open the hiring process to “the widest range of interested applicants,” according to a statement, including men and women from outside the department.

Michael Scott, director of the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing at UW-Madison, said this week that he plans to apply, citing the department’s “long, sustained history of both professionalism and progressivism.”

“We all know this is a remarkable police department,” said Scott, who was a Madison officer in the 1980s. “To lead an organization like that is an incredible opportunity for everyone.”

The commission is anticipating a lot of applications, PFC attorney Scott Herrick said, because Madison and its department have a lot to offer.

Steve Riffel, a police chief in Sheboygan Falls and president of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, said the department’s size and diversity are attractive to potential candidates. Scott pointed to its highly educated force and a “reservoir of talent” in the department.

Both said the job is even more appealing because chiefs in Wisconsin aren’t political appointments, answering to a commission rather than a mayoral administration that could change with the next election.

The PFC wrote in the job announcement it anticipates the next chief will serve for “at least seven years.”

“Being a police chief in Wisconsin certainly does lend itself to some political stability,” Riffel said.

Different benefits

It’s not yet clear if candidates from outside the department will have a tougher road getting the chief’s job than those already in it. Herrick said the commission isn’t giving preference either way.

When cities pick internal or external candidates, they’re often seen as making a choice about the direction of the department, Scott said. Go with someone from inside and stay the course with the department’s philosophy; go outside for a radical change, he said.

External candidates in general can also benefit because they aren’t bound by history or traditions, he said.

“The outsider is free to, relatively speaking, draw on a clean slate,” Scott said.

Madison police have faced public pressure over how officers use deadly force and how investigations into those incidents are carried out, and there has been some friction within the department after months of investigations, Scott said.

But while the department’s critics have raised issues with some policies, he said, there isn’t a feeling in Madison that the department at large is out of control and needs a complete overhaul.

Similarly, he said, the PFC hasn’t indicated it’s looking for a big change in direction.

In its job posting, the commission says the new chief must not “succumb to pressures to abandon the progress and accomplishments of the past several decades.”

And although some officers have expressed frustrations, Scott said, there isn’t a long-running, deep distrust between them and the brass.

Those factors mean that whoever the commission picks as chief will likely be in line with existing department philosophies, Scott and others said.

Officer Dan Frei, president of the Madison Professional Police Officers Association, said the union’s members were in favor of opening up the search to external candidates.

Picking a chief from outside the department would not alone be enough to invite a negative reaction from officers, Frei said, though it’s true he or she would be an “unknown quantity.” And while officers might be more familiar with internal candidates, there’s still plenty they wouldn’t know about what they would do as chief.

“You can’t fully know what things they might change … until they actually have the full authority,” Frei said.

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(1) Comments

  1. eclectic
    Report Abuse
    eclectic - December 09, 2013 12:16 pm
    A broad search is certainly appropriate.

    The commission should publish its job description and evaluation criteria so there is transparency in the process.

    There should be at least 10 semi-finalists before finalists are selected. The resumes of the semi-finalists should be public. This will allow the public to have confidence that the most qualified person was indeed selected.

    The City will not be well served by the public perception of a crony hire or diversity hire.
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