At long last, the city of Frederick is starting its search for a new chief of police, seven months after the last chief left the department.
The pandemic has inhibited the ability of the city to look for a new leader for the police department, as well as the need to fill another high-profile vacancy, the director of the Department of Housing and Human Services.
Mayor Michael O’Connor had to prioritize filling the newly created housing and human services position in part because he did not have an acting director on hand, as he did in the case of the police department.
When former Chief Ed Hargis left in late February, Deputy Chief Patrick Grossman was ready to step in as acting chief, a role he has competently filled since then. But no matter how good an acting chief is, he or she cannot speak with the full authority of the office.
Now that Ramenta Cottrell has been hired for the housing and human services post, and the pandemic restrictions have been eased, the mayor can turn his attention to filling the police post.
O’Connor has announced a timeline and appointed a search committee to assist in the process, and he said he hopes to fill the job by the end of the year.
In an unexpected way, the long delay in the search for a new chief may actually work to the city’s advantage. In the months since the Hargis resignation, the entire nation has begun a discussion of race relations and the role of police.
Now, that discussion can take place here in Frederick in a structured way that should be productive and should enable the city to think deeply about the kind of police department we want to have and the kind of person who should be appointed to lead that new department.
Under the process announced this week, the city will post the job description for 30 days while the search committee reaches out to the community through this month and October to identify the qualities and qualifications it would like to see in a chief.
The city has hired the International Association of Chiefs of Police to consult on the hiring process. In October and November, the committee and the consultant will review applicants and identify candidates, conduct interviews and submit their recommendations to the mayor.
In November and December, O’Connor and the search committee will review the recommendations, conduct a final round of interviews and select finalists.
The finalists will meet with members of the community before O’Connor presents his final candidate to the Board of Aldermen for approval.
The search committee includes Alderman Derek Shackelford, residents, a representative from the police department, and representatives from the city staff as well as the educational, religious, business and other communities.
That committee covers a wide swath of the community and should provide a broad diversity of voices. O’Connor told News-Post reporter Ryan Marshall that he believes the relationship between the community and the police department is good, but he added that there is always room for improvement.
O’Connor should know that, along with the high-profile hiring of the housing and human services director, the hiring of a new leader for the police force is likely to shape his legacy as mayor.
He has the power in these personnel decisions to select people to address two of the most important issues facing our city and our society: easing poverty and the effects of institutional racism, as well as protecting public safety for all.
We wish him well, for he holds the hopes of the city.