Police Chief Town Hall Finds Candidates Ready to Serve, Lead Change
In a Wednesday evening town hall event, the finalists for Columbus’ Chief of Police made their case for the job, citing past successes in increasing diversity, reducing crime and spurring changes in their respective cities.
The finalists are Detroit Police Deputy Chief Elaine Bryant, Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs, Dallas Assistant Police Chief Avery Moore and 30×30 Initiative Co-Founder Ivonne Roman.
Moderated by Mo Wright, president and CEO of training and consulting firm RAMA Consulting Group, the four spoke on their backgrounds, plans and vision for Columbus if they were hired as chief.
The candidates started with introductions and opening statements.
Bryant has 21 years of experience in law enforcement, and has served as liaison between faith-based organizations and the Detroit Police Department. She is also responsible for creating and implementing community relations projects within the City of Detroit. She also mentioned her role in overseeing last year’s protests in her city.
“I am ready to serve, I am absolutely in a position to make change, I am a change agent, and I’m ready to get the job done,” she said.
Next, Diggs has 44 years experience in law enforcement and oversaw a 51% reduction in violent crime during his tenure as Fort Meyers’ chief of police. He also obtained Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies advanced recertification last year after successful reform and reorganizational efforts.
He said his city saw no violent protests last year and saw a fifth straight year in violent crime reduction.
“With the support of your community members, your city leadership, your elected officials and stakeholders, I am confident these successful results can be replicated in the city of Columbus,” he said.
Moore, who has 30 years of experience in law enforcement and helped improved Dallas’ clearance rate by 22%, also oversaw the planning and executing of protest-related events in his city. In his opening statement, he said he considers himself a well-rounded leader and feels Columbus can come together collectively to make the city safest in the country.
“I think big, because I believe in us, which is the last two letters of Columbus. We together can accomplish it,” he said.
Lastly Roman, who has 25 years in law enforcement, currently leads the 30×30 initiative, which sets out to increase the representation of policewomen in the United States to 30% by 2030. She opened by detailing her experience with police as a child and adolescence in Puerto Rico and New York City, and being seen as a super-predator. She said she negotiated a consent decree during her time at the Newark Police Department and said the department is better than when she first arrived.
“That’s what I bring to Columbus, an understanding of how systemic racism works, of how police practices and a city’s history works to deteriorate trust in policing. But I also know that transformation is possible,” she said.
Wright asked the candidates how their experience has prepared them to take on the role of chief, as the city is challenged in many ways, including a spike in crime and calls to reimagine public safety.
Bryant said Detroit has had civilian oversight since the 1970s and has a great relationship with the board in her role. For most of her career, the Detroit Police Department has been under a consent decree, and she was an integral part in successfully concluding their consent decree.
Moore explained that he had flown up to Columbus to speak with police stakeholders and community members about feeling included in the policing process and the lack of trust of the department. He said he also met with officers who are ready for change but emphasized consistency from leadership.
Roman said she is a “life-long learner” and has embraced science, data and expertise to make changes and evaluate programs that may potentially cause harm. She said Columbus can be a national model, and would not come in assuming she knows what the community wants to see out of the department.
Diggs pointed out that he was the first African American police chief for the city of Toledo, and has experience leading both Toledo and Fort Meyers in challenging times, including economic issues and low police staffing, political corruption and increased violent crime.
On restoring the faith and credibility of the Columbus Police Department, the candidates spoke on building trust and engaging with the community.
Diggs said that would come from professional development, as well as youth development and intervention, working with schools and connecting with students through athletics. He also pointed to restorative justice, increasing diversity and inclusion, and connecting residents to needed social and economic resources.
Avery said he would include residents in police processes, and show consistency by coming up with actionable items with the community to establish trust. He also said the community should be engaged with openly and honestly, and that the community wants to be policed, but not everyone needs to be policed because only a small part of the community is actually breaking the law.
Roman said too many police programs chip away at that trust. She emphasized genuine opportunities for engagement, as opposed to photo ops or an overemphasis on productivity. She also said different communities want to be engaged differently.
She talked about those needs as it relates to the LGBTQ community, including how the Newark Police Department created a curriculum for officers in partnership with Rutgers University to meet their needs and the initiative to increase women in the police force she co-founded.
“We have metrics, we have data, and we’re data rich. We can analyze our own data, and see what actions we’re engaging in that produce disparities that harm our relationships,” she said.
Bryant said it was necessary to humanize the badge, and provide restorative justice programs. She said the Detriot police have a program where police academy students go into the community and speak with people who are homeless or have experienced substance abuse crises. She also talked about taking a holistic approach, with programs like Detriot’s trauma and intervention camp for youth.
She also talked about increasing diversity, including the LGBTQ community. She said the Detroit Police Department hired its first transgender officer in 2017 and other trans individuals have followed after.
Other questions posed to the candidates included recruitment and weeding out bias, coming into the department as an outsider, improving the relationship between the police and communities of color, speaking directly to officers and what they should expect from them, and more.
In all, Wright said the city received over 150 questions for the candidates, and mentioned candidates will continue to engage in dialogue in the coming days. He also said community members would be tapped to get insight into their perspectives on the town hall.
The new police chief is expected to be hired by Memorial Day.
View the town hall in full here.