Editorial

New police chief deserves a chance

Saturday, September 15, 2001

Cape Girardeau has its new police chief, a 25-year veteran of the force and a man who is known and respected throughout the county.

Steve Strong deserves his opportunity to lead the department.

He's a straight shooter, involved in several civic and charitable organizations and has proven his worth in law enforcement.

He has filled in as interim chief on two occasions, once in 1996 before former chief Rick Hetzel was hired and again this year when Hetzel resigned.

Strong was a candidate for the job when Hetzel got it. City manager Michael Miller said Strong had grown as a candidate since that time.

But it would seem, as with many issues in city government, it's not that simple. The police chief in Bellevue, Neb., Hines Smith, told his local newspaper -- the Omaha World-Herald -- that he was a finalist for the job. He said Cape Girardeau was making him an offer even before he got back to Bellevue from his Cape Girardeau interview.

Smith spoke to the World-Herald Sept. 4, explaining that he was the likely front-runner, but he and the city of Cape Girardeau were $15,000 apart on salary. Strong was hired Sept. 5.

Strong will make $62,500 a year. Smith makes $79,416 in Nebraska.

So Strong started his job under the suspicion that $15,000, not better qualifications, was the reason he was the winning candidate.

He faces another challenge.

The Cape Girardeau Police Officers Association, a union-like group that represents the vast majority of sworn officers, also picked Smith as their candidate. They liked his rapport with his officers. The union representative in Bellevue said a cop couldn't ask for a better chief. He fought for equipment and money and usually won.

But Miller hired Strong over Smith. He made that decision in the wake of a $43,000 consulting agency's draft report that said Cape Girardeau's police department suffered from a lack of communication between management and officers.

And that report is another issue Strong faces as he starts his new job. It contained a laundry list of problems with the department based on interviews with employees. Again and again, it went back to problems with the relationship between management and staff.

Strong has the know-how and drive to do the job. He's a proven leader who clearly wants the best for his community.

His officers and everyone else owes him all the support we can provide and ensure a successful tenure in his new position.

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