Officers check out candidates for police chief

Saturday, September 1, 2001

Cape Girardeau Police Officers Association members completed an independent background check of three out-of-town police chief candidates and made their recommendation to the city manager. But they're keeping mum on who it is until a chief is chosen.

The association made the announcement on Friday, two days after an informal meeting between police department employees and job candidates at police headquarters. Association treasurer Bill Bohnert confirmed that Bellevue, Neb., police chief Hines Smith attended the event.

"They were all about the same," Bohnert said of the meeting. "We developed our opinions after the background check. You can't get a feeling for somebody chit-chatting for a couple of hours over a cup of coffee."

Capt. Steve Strong has confirmed he is the sole internal candidate.

City manager Michael Miller refused to reveal the candidates' names or cities of residence, saying it might jeopardize future job searches should candidates fear they would become known. Miller even kept the full names from police officers, saying it was up to the candidates to reveal themselves, Bohnert said.

A news release from the association said the group, which represents 56 of the department's 71 officers, was withholding the names "in accordance with the city manager's wishes." Association president Curtis Sessions said he wants to keep the peace.

"I believe it is a good field of candidates, and hopefully the one we recommended is the one they choose," he said.

Strong, who has been acting police chief since Rick Hetzel's resignation May 31, said he has no idea who the other candidates are.

Strong is originally from Cape Girardeau and has been with the police department here since 1976.

"I was told there were three or four people in the process," Strong said.

Strong was the first candidate interviewed by the six-person search committee. The panel spoke with him Aug. 24 and told him they were leaving up to individual applicants how much information each wanted released to the public.

The other candidates were all interviewed Wednesday and later introduced to officers at a meet-and-greet gathering at which just their first names and last initials were given. Strong was interviewed early because he had a conference in Philadelphia this week.

Strong said most of the panel knew him, but they conducted a wide-ranging interview. He said they plan to make a decision within two weeks.

Smith considered Paducah

In January, Smith nearly accepted a job as police chief in Paducah, Ky., because he was trying to move closer to his 84-year-old mother in North Carolina. Paducah would have been a six-hour drive away, he said.

When he turned the job down, Paducah Mayor William Paxton said he was disappointed but held no hard feelings.

A native of Greensboro, N.C., Smith has been Bellevue police chief since 1986. With 46,000 people, Bellevue is the largest suburb of Omaha, Neb. Bellevue has a police department of 76 sworn officers and a 2001 budget of $5.5 million.

Smith was unavailable for comment.

The search committee is made up of the city manager, assistant city manager Walter Denton, airport manager Bruce Loy, inspections services manager Tarryl Booker, human resources manager Dan Ward and public information officer Tracey Glenn.

The same group made up the search committee to hire the new fire chief, Michael W. Lackman.

Reporter Nichole Aksamit of the Omaha World-Herald contributed to this report.

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