Hail to the chief

The editorial staff of the Reno News & Review would
like to welcome incoming Police Chief Michael Poehlman. He appears to have the skills and the experience to be a good top cop in Reno. We’ve also heard some of his ideas for Reno and are cautiously optimistic.

We like the idea of better communication between the Reno Police Department and the public and the press. That idea would go against a national trend toward increased secrecy on the part of government officials, and it is encouraging to hear a public official list communication as a top priority.

Communication is a two-way street, though, and when improving the contact from the police department to the city, the new chief will find citizens prefer to talk to a human being when they contact the department—not all situations are emergencies, but public attitudes toward the police are often fixed in the day-to-day interactions.

Decentralization, too, would have its benefits for the taxpayers in Reno, although money for building improvements (outside of downtown) is generally tight. A good working relationship with the city’s administrators, like the city manager, mayor and city council, may help to loosen the pursestrings. The new chief will find that infrastructure isn’t his only money problem, though. Many folks feel the department is understaffed, and too many types of crimes fall to the low-priority list.

Poehlman’s reported dedication to diversity will also improve the police force’s image in town. Many community members feel underrepresented by the police department in Reno, and hiring policies that increase the numbers of minorities and sexual orientations and women will also help citizens become more comfortable working with the department.

The chief’s emphasis on high entrance standards for new members of the organization can only advance the cause of having good interactions between citizens and on-the-beat cops. The associate’s degree requirement of the chief’s last post in Oceanside, Calif., would transfer well to Reno—the hiring standards for our police should be higher than those for the average retail sales associate.

There is one issue that hasn’t been publicly associated with the new police chief: a civilian police review board. The issue was studied at some length back in 2001 and 2002, but many members of the community felt the process was flawed, with the group making the recommendation to the Reno City Council laboring under accusations of bias in favor of less oversight of the police department. It’s an idea, in this new atmosphere of community outreach, that should be reexamined.

In short, welcome aboard, Chief Poehlman. Reno’s a great town, and a new attitude toward working with the community can only make it better.