City officials deserve credit for the public outreach so far in finding Sacramento’s next police chief. Now they need to take the next step and hold open hearings with the top candidates.
For now, the plan is for finalists to be interviewed in private, the city manager’s office said Tuesday. Mayor Darrell Steinberg backs that decision.
As usual for a top local government post, the objection against public interviews is that some of the best candidates could drop out because they don’t want to be named to avoid complications with their current posts.
But this is no ordinary time. And the job of police chief is different.
Sacramento’s department, like many, is under a microscope. Building more trust with the community is essential, so facing some uncomfortable questions from residents isn’t too much to ask.
Obviously, there is more work for the new chief to do. On Tuesday, an officer was placed on administrative leave after video showed him throwing a pedestrian to the ground and punching him in the face. The department said the actions appear “unacceptable,” and Steinberg called them “extremely disturbing.”
With increased public scrutiny, morale within the department is a concern. Last month, the City Council approved nearly $1.4 million in one-time bonuses to stem a loss of officers to other agencies.
The next chief will replace Sam Somers Jr., who retired under pressure in December after three years. This is a crucial hire for City Manager Howard Chan, who plans to make the final decision in June after consulting with the mayor and council.
So far, the national search has incorporated community forums to come up with desired qualities, including a commitment to transparency and to dealing with homelessness and mental health. The current plan is for top applicants to be interviewed by a panel of law enforcement and city officials, who will make a recommendation to Chan.
Opening the interviews comes with some risk. Community groups could split over who they favor, making the decision more contentious.
But the upside is greater. The new chief can’t succeed without strong public support. That can start with the hiring if only applicants and city officials will be more open.