Every so often, a terribly bad idea keeps showing up, one that the job of chief at the Lima Police Department, and this time also the Lima Fire Department, should be opened up to outsiders.
I have written about it before, primarily from the viewpoint that the head of the local law enforcement agency needs knowledge of the community that can only be gained from living here — knowledge of its residents, its culture, its problems, its good points, its bad points, its history, and a lot of other factors that make the city what it is, good or bad.
Many years ago, a speaker at a seminar that I attended made a comment that stuck with me. It was called the “Briefcase Syndrome.” He said that too many people believe that an outsider somehow has more knowledge than the locals, and that what they will accept as an expert is, “Anyone who is more than 50 miles from home and carrying a briefcase.”
There are a lot of briefcase carrying potential police chiefs wandering around trying to find a job. Unfortunately, many of them have qualifications that consist of a few years of experience in lower ranks of a police department, supplemented by a master’s degree. Others have the necessary time in higher rank to qualify them, but most of them are looking for a higher paying job.
Lima cannot pay the salary required to attract an outsider with qualifications equal to or better than local candidates who have lived here, possibly for their whole life, and are rooted here. A good example of this is a major from the LPD who took the chief’s job in another city. The starting pay for the job was in excess of $25,000 higher than the top pay for the chief in Lima.
Another factor in the pay situation is that many outside police executives could be called “Itinerant Chiefs.” They are constantly searching for a job that pays more money, which they need for their retirement because they have not been in one city long enough to qualify for a pension in that state. I have known some of these, and my observation is that they neglect their present job in order to search for the next one.
A high rate of turnover in the top job in a police department can only result in turmoil within that organization. New bosses bring about changes, which can be a good thing, but when those changes take place with a high degree of frequency it can only result in confusion, low morale, and internal strife. A long-serving chief, selected and protected by civil service rules from outside politically motivated influences can only result in a better police agency.
I would wager that those people who are pushing for an appointed chief are not aware of the history of the LPD. The fact is that in its 131 year history, the LPD has had a total of 31 Chiefs of Police, and that in the early years they were politically appointed, some serving for just a few months. From its founding as a formal police agency in 1887 until the early 1940s, there were 25 different politically appointed chiefs, with an average tenure of slightly over two years. In the nearly 80 years since chiefs began to be selected by civil service testing and with civil service protection, there have been just six chiefs, with an average tenure in the position of nearly 13 years each.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that stability at the top of an agency results in stability within the agency, and that a home-grown chief who knows the city, and has already spent at least 20 years within the LPD, is a better choice than an outsider.
If outsiders are such a good idea, why can’t I run for the city council seat held by the person who brought this bad idea to the surface. After all, I have the education and experience to make me an ideal candidate; the fact that I live in American Township about a half mile from her ward boundary shouldn’t disqualify me.
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News, often focusing on police matters.