Openness, fairness cited in search for chief BALTIMORE CITY

September 09, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- It wasn't so long ago, says Hubert Williams, that a mayor seeking guidance on selecting a police chief might call up the head of a national police organization, chat about possible candidates -- and then pick his own person.

Today, says Mr. Williams, president of the nonprofit Police Foundation, the selection process often is "more formalized."

"There's a lot of concern about the issue of equity, openness and fairness," he said in an interview in his office here last week.

The former police chief of Newark, N.J., heads the eight-member mayoral committee searching for a new Baltimore police commissioner. The panel will hold its first meeting today.

The search began last month when the city advertised for a successor to Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods, who announced that he was retiring, effective Nov. 1. According to the ads, applicants must have a bachelor's degree, five years of experience in directing a law enforcement agency and a "successful track record" in overseeing community-based policing.

In addition, Mr. Williams said, the committee will contact police .. chiefs in other cities, inviting them to apply.

"We want to have as broad a sweep as possible. I think we'll get a good group," he said.

The city personnel department will collect the resumes and coordinate background and reference checks of candidates. The committee will review the resumes and decide which candidates to interview. It will then forward the names of no more than five finalists to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who will choose the new commissioner.

Mr. Williams wouldn't speculate how many applicants the committee would bring in to interview. But in other cities in which he has participated in the search for the top police officers, he said, enough candidates were brought in to fill "a couple of days" with interviews.

Those cities include Atlantic City, N.J.; Flint, Mich.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Richmond, Va.; and, most notably, Los Angeles, where Mr. Williams also was deputy director of a commission that investigated the police response to the riots in 1992.

Atlantic City Mayor James Whalen heaped praise on Mr. Williams.

"None better," said Mr. Whalen, who used Mr. Williams in his city's 1990 search for a public safety director, a position that went unfilled for budgetary reasons, and as an adviser on community policing and other issues.

"He's extremely knowledgeable in terms of police issues and police personnel," Mr. Whalen said.

The Police Foundation does not charge cities for Mr. Williams' services.

"We believe this is something we as an institution should be trying to help with," Mr. Williams said of his organization, which has been in existence since 1970 and is funded largely by the Ford Foundation. The Police Foundation provides technical and research assistance with an eye to improving policing.

Of all the cities where he has been involved in the search for a police chief, Mr. Williams, 54, is perhaps most familiar with Baltimore. He has lived here with his wife and 16-year-old son for the past six years, since shortly after he became head of the Police Foundation after serving as Newark's police chief from 1974 to 1985.

He will say only that he lives in the southeast part of the city, in keeping with his desire to "try to be as low profile as I can."

"I don't want to be the focus of attention with respect to the search committee. My role is to coordinate the process," he said.

He said that crime statistics -- an issue in Baltimore, where the city set a record for murders last year -- are not the sole measure of a police department's effectiveness.

"People expect visible police presence dealing with crime. They don't necessarily expect the police to be solely accountable for all the statistics," he said.

Mr. Williams, a one-time beat officer and undercover narcotics officer who helped found the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officers in 1976, said it is not necessary for cities such as Baltimore, where the majority of the population is black, to have a black police chief.

"It's hard enough to find a police chief who meets high standards without excluding people based on criteria that are fundamentally irrelevant," he said.

"Many people I hope to encourage to apply are not African-American citizens. How they will do when they

make their case is another matter," he added.

He said the fact that the committee is conducting a national search does not automatically preclude consideration of candidates from within the Baltimore Police Department. But he noted, "It's rare an internal candidate can have within the scope of his or her experience . . . demonstrable leadership at the apex."

It will be up to the committee to determine which candidates have the requisite experience with regard to community policing, Mr. Williams said, but he noted that most major police departments are using the concept one way or another.

Mr. Williams said he hopes the committee can provide Mr. Schmoke with a list of candidates in time for a new commissioner to be in place by Nov. 1 but, he conceded, "It may take a month longer." He said the committee will hold "as many meetings as necessary" to complete its search.

Mr. Williams said that the committee wouldn't reveal the names of initial applicants, but that he considered it "very important for the public to know the names of candidates under serious consideration."

PD "The public has a strong interest and a right to know," he said.

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