Cape police group wants more say in selection of next chief

Friday, September 28, 2012
In this file photo, Cape Girardeau police work the scene of a victim of a self-inflicted gun shot wound outside Dan's Key and Lock Tuesday afternoon, March 6, 2012. The police association is asking for a greater say in the selection of a new chief. (Laura Simon)

With the search for the next top cop set to begin in earnest, the Cape Girardeau Police Officers Association doesn't want to be brushed aside -- as it claims to have been in years past -- and this time wants to be allowed to help pick the person members will work for.

The police group wants to have a representative on the selection committee that will make a recommendation to city manager Scott Meyer, the man who will ultimately make the decision, said association president Sgt. Bill Bohnert.

"In the past we've never been able to get in there," Bohnert said. "I think we talk and it falls on deaf ears, but we're hoping this time around the association will get a little say-so."

With the period for accepting applications expired, the city has received 53 applicants looking to take over a department that responds to more than 150 service calls each day. The new chief will replace Carl Kinnison, who resigned in July after three decades with the department, the last seven years as chief.

Assistant city manager Heather Brooks and human resources director Lori Meyer are reviewing the applications, Meyer said, and later he'll select a committee to help with interviews that will possibly be made up of city employees, department heads and perhaps a resident. Meyer did not rule out that a member of the police association would be involved, but he said no determinations have been made about who will be on the committee.

"We're going to be taking input," Meyer said. "What exactly that will look like or from who, we just don't know yet."

If it's done like it has been done in the past, Bohnert said, it will be done with only marginal attempts at getting the association involved. This will be the first chief selected by Meyer, but when Kinnison was picked, an announcement was made and the association had no input, Bohnert said. Before him, the association met the three finalists late in the game, was left alone with them in a room and given a half-hour to "chitchat," Bohnert said.

In that instance, the association recommended an outside candidate from Bellevue, Neb. The city manager at the time went with Steve Strong, who had been with the department for years.

Discussions from a recent meeting suggested the association is pretty evenly split about whether the new chief should come from within the department or from elsewhere. Assistant chief Roger Fields is the only known candidate for the job.

But, from the way Bohnert talked, he feels like it might be time for someone from the outside to take the reins. Chiefs from the inside, he said, tend to be beholden to the city manager and members of the Cape Girardeau City Council.

"They work more for them than they do at taking care of the officers," Bohnert said.

A chief from outside may be more willing, Bohnert said, to stand up to the powers that be to help grow the number of officers that has stagnated since the 1990s, deliver on pay increases and get the department a new building to replace the aging one that depends on trailers to meet its needs.

Bohnert believes the association should be involved in the process from the start, weeding out those with lesser qualifications and do a thorough vetting of the finalists.

The association would like to call officers who have worked with a candidate to get a feel for what he or she is about, he said.

"We really feel like we don't have any say-so at all," Bohnert said.

Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger said the decision was Meyer's alone and refused to weigh in about whether the association should be included.

Meyer wouldn't commit on Thursday to saving a seat at the table for anyone in particular. But he said he realizes it is a key decision to pick the man to ensure that the city's 37,000 residents and a number of visitors are protected.

"These are important, important decisions that we don't take lightly," Meyer said. "I don't take them lightly at all, and I want to make sure we get the right fit as much as anybody. That's the reason the process we have is pretty detailed and will take awhile. I'd rather us wait another month or two and get the right match than to get somebody who doesn't work for us."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

40 S. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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