Soapbox

Here’s one way to help Sacramento’s next police chief succeed

Sacramento police Officer Michelle Lizard talks with homeless people downtown on March 2. The city is selecting a new police chief.
Sacramento police Officer Michelle Lizard talks with homeless people downtown on March 2. The city is selecting a new police chief. jvillegas@sacbee.com

No matter who is chosen as Sacramento’s next police chief, the city needs to restore the position of assistant chief of police.

When I started as an officer with the Sacramento Police Department in February 1977, it had a chief, multiple deputy chiefs and an assistant chief of police. When I left in 2000, I was one of three deputy chiefs; the assistant position had been eliminated during budget cuts.

Yes, we got the work of the department done. But we would have been significantly more effective with a “chief operating officer” whose full-time job was to focus the department on fulfilling the expectations of the police chief and public.

When I joined the U.S. Navy, I quickly learned that the captain of a ship was ultimately in charge, but it was our executive officer who ensured the “plan of the day” was accomplished. The XO also meted out discipline and tracked individual and unit performance.

When I joined the Police Department, the assistant chief of police coordinated our efforts to deliver on the department’s promises and commitments. An assistant chief would significantly improve service to the community if the position were restored today.

Community policing demands close attention to residents’ concerns, combined with problem solving, high levels of coordination, and accountability and sensitivity to the concerns of the public. A police chief must be available to the public, coordinate with other city departments, and meet regularly with community partners and public safety organizations.

It is magical thinking to assume the city can hire anyone who can attend community meetings that fill a chief’s calendar and also spend the time necessary to effectively win the hearts and minds of officers, detectives and civilian support personnel. Someone needs to pay close attention to executing the chief’s strategy. An assistant chief is ideally suited for this task.

The Sacramento County sheriff has an undersheriff. Most large public and private groups employ a chief operating officer, a second in command. Sacramento needs an assistant chief of police.

Matt Powers is retired deputy chief of the Sacramento Police Department. He can be contacted at powersmatt@comcast.net.

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