Exercise in leadership

Hypothetic situation challenges police-captain candidates

The following scenario is “ripped from the latest headlines,” sort of like the latest episode of Law and Order. It was used during a set of job interviews this week to test the ability of police-captain candidates to think on their feet.

You’re a police captain in Chico. A group of citizens has done a survey of local attitudes toward the Police Department and wants a public meeting to present its results. At your chief’s request, you are going to set up and lead a meeting with the group in City Council chambers next week.

The citizens are upset by a perceived increase in violent crime, particularly strong-arm robberies along the railroad tracks bordering the Chico State campus. They are also concerned about the violent sexual attacks much in the news this year. And there is a perception that Chico police officers have engaged in racial profiling of black, college-age men in the aftermath of those crimes. (Department statistics do not indicate an increase in violent crimes over the last year.)

How would you prepare for the meeting? Set it up? Handle it?

This was the hypothetical situation confronting the four candidates competing for the open captain slot at the Chico Police Department Tuesday morning (Nov. 17). They were each given 10 minutes to come up with a plan.

The process was designed to help Chief Mike Maloney make one of the most important decisions of his still-young tenure. The chief and his two captains comprise the core executive team that runs the CPD, with each of the captains overseeing one of the two divisions of the department.

The chief had invited several community members, including me, along with a couple of police chiefs from other cities, to participate in the vetting process. Half joined him for traditional oral interviews of the candidates; the others participated in the scenario exercise.

I was in the latter group. It was a fascinating experience. The scenario exercise did a terrific job of differentiating the candidates. Some of them were remarkably thorough and composed while describing what they would do and why they would do it, others less so. The better answers were global in scope, involving all relevant stakeholders (community leaders, the media, university officials, student leaders) in order to foster a community-wide response to the problems.

All of the candidates understood the importance of having complete statistical data on the actual number of crimes, but the better ones also knew that statistics weren’t always sufficient to allay fears. So they said they would increase foot, bike and even horse patrols in the area to show the community the police were being proactive.

Ultimately the hiring decision will be up to Maloney, in concert with City Manager Dave Burkland, but it was obvious the panelists’ impressions were important to him. The department, he stressed, is looking most of all for someone who will be a good fit both internally and in the larger community.

It was encouraging to see how sophisticated and thorough the vetting process was and to know chances are good that the person hired will do an excellent job in this very important leadership position.