Saline Tells Search Firm What It Wants In A Police Chief

 08/31/2017 - 00:21
Jim Mercer of The Mercer Group, a management consulting firm, addresses those in attendance at Tuesday night's forum regarding the hiring of a new chief of police for the City of Saline. Mercer was chosen by council to lead the process of finding Chief Larry Hrinik's replacement upon his impending retirement this November.

Just as the rain was clearing Tuesday night, a small group of citizens, city officials and other concerned parties shuffled inside the Saline City Hall council chambers to voice their varied opinions concerning qualities they would like to see in the city's next chief of police.

The current chief, Larry Hrinik, announced in July that he plans to retire in November, and the city has retained Jim Mercer of The Mercer Group, a management consulting firm, to lead the replacement hiring process.

Mercer was on hand at the forum to hear directly from the people of Saline, and those in attendance provided a clear and comprehensive vision of what they expect in their next top cop.

City Clerk Terri Royal transcribed the crowd's sentiments as the night progressed, printing their thoughts on a larger white pad of paper. By the end of the session, she had filled three complete pages.

The ideas expressed were wide-ranging, but several key points were reiterated over the course of the evening, including the need for a leader who is adaptable to change, one who is fair and community-minded, as well as a person who will take on drug problems, such as opioid addiction, with mindfulness toward correlated mental health contingencies.            

A resident who didn't identify himself by name but spoke toward the beginning of the forum said he agrees with more mental health training for police departments from the top down, as well as, perhaps, the hiring of a person who belongs to a minority group, or at least one who is very sensitive to the needs of minorities.

Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden said he wants a chief that will continue to partner well with the district.

"We've had that in the past and want that to continue," he said. "The relationship that we have with the City of Saline and the Saline Police Department is critical for our success and to, certainly, the safety and welfare of the majority of our buildings that are within city limits."

Jack Ceo, city council trustee as well as former deputy chief for both the Saline Police Department and the Ann Arbor Police Department, said he desires someone to fill the vacancy who has as ear for what Salinians want.

"What you do in the police department needs to be tempered by the tenor of the community," he said. "Not that you need to ignore laws that are written, but you need to be very careful in how you administer the police department and in what direction you direct the officers in the enforcement of those laws, with a strong flavor of what it is the community expects."

Ceo also said the new chief has to have a strong grasp of current policing technology as well as how to most effectively train officers on how to use it.

Downtown resident Bruce Westlake said he prioritizes a natural leader as well as someone who will deal with opioid offenders not necessarily as criminals, but as those in serious need of intervention and help.

Mayor Pro Tem Linda TerHaar said being an effective department head should often include taking young personnel under your wing.

"The new police chief needs to have the qualities of a mentor," she said. "There have been organizational changes in the department over the last number of years and the members of the department have had a lot of opportunities to take on new roles and responsibilities and to grow and I would like to see that continue very much so."

TerHaar also said that since Saline has been able to maintain a small city feel in spite of recent growth, she'd like to see a police chief who is very visible in the community.

City councilor Christen Mitchell said she wants a unifier in office.

"We live in a divisive time and we've had some national news and national events that are troubling and I would like to echo the voices that have spoken for unity," she said. "And I want someone who has the leadership skills to be somebody who can unite our community, because when I think of our community I think of neighbors looking out for one another and helping one another."

City council trustee Janet Dillon said she also wants to see comprehensive mentoring and succession planning.

"I want to make sure that our longtime employees still are staying the course and at the same time we're growing our department," she said.

Mayor Brian Marl spoke of the members of the task force assigned the responsibility of vetting potential candidates.

"The breadth and depth of the expertise on the hiring panel is pretty exceptional," he said, citing the group of seven.

They include City Manager Todd Campbell, Ceo, TehHaar, Marl, Mercer, as well as Chelsea Police Chief and Saline native Ed Toth, and Marlene Radzik, commander at the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office.

Mercer said the hiring timeline he and the others discussed earlier in the day is fairly aggressive, and suggested they are on track to make a decision by sometime in November.

Campbell said he is excited about the process

"I know plenty of folks are going to be qualified for the position, but it's critical that we find that right fit for the community," he said.

The following is a rough, slightly edited for clarity, rendering of the idea list put down on poster paper at the forum:

            * Experience in change and diversity

            * Enforcing quality of life laws

            * Partners with schools

            * Trained in mental health, sensitivity, drug overdoses, suicide, etc.

            * A minority or sensitive to minorities

            * Willingness to changes in community and society

            * Be able to lead

            * Integrity, fairness, flexible, community-minded

            * Able to grasp what the community wants and needs

            * Deal with opioid addiction and drug issues

            * Mentor within the department

            * Help employees grow within their roles

            * Visible in the community

            * Be willing to do all aspects of police work

            * Develop staff and succession planning

            * See trends and be proactive

            * Deal with public criticism

            * Be able to unite the community

            * Continue with current reports and fill gaps that are currently there

            * Strong communication and presence in the community

            * Task force for education and drug issues needs to continue on

            * Bar is set high, new chief needs to be willing to keep that bar high

            * Be able to negotiate with staff, unions and the community

            * Address the issues or any wrongs

            * Able to accomplish and set goals personally and for and his team

            * Chief advocates for employees

            * Technology, keep up with current trends and upcoming trends

            * Keep chief and employees learning new technology and how best to use it and                                resources

Steven Howard
Steven Howard is a freelance writer and journalist living in Saline.