Police Promotions


Being a bit old school, I was put off at first. Eureka Police Chief Andy Mills was on the phone asking me to take part in a community panel that would help him decide who to promote to the position of EPD captain. The positions are critical to Mills’ plan for policing Eureka, which involves splitting the city in half geographically, with one captain responsible for the day-to-day operations of each. He said he wanted good people in place and was reshaping the department’s promotional process.

Historically, EPD promotions have been an insular affair, with testing and interviewing happening behind closed doors and including no one outside the law enforcement community. But Mills, who came from San Diego about a year ago to take over the department, was changing that, putting together three interview panels — one of community members, another of Eureka department heads and the last of law enforcement officials — in an attempt to get a more holistic feel for the candidates, and how they respond to different people and situations.

The catch for me was that large parts of the process were going to be confidential and I would have to sign a nondisclosure agreement. And, if I joined the panel, I would be asking questions provided by Mills, with only a limited opportunity to ask follow up questions. As a journalist, telling me I’m not allowed to ask my own questions and that what’s said needs to be kept secret is generally a deal breaker. Further, I believe journalists should keep their sources and subjects at arm’s length to preserve objectivity as much as possible. Things can get sticky and lines can grow blurry when you get too close, and having a hand in deciding who gets promoted in an agency I cover seemed all too close for my tastes. But, I told Mills I’d mull it over.

Ultimately, the citizen in me won the internal debate. Humboldt County is my home, I reasoned, and it’s a better place with a better EPD. As a reporter who’s covered the department for eight years, I probably understand it better than most — I’ve seen its strengths, its shortcomings and its relationship with the community all play out on a near daily basis. And, I thought, the experience would leave me even better informed about the department and its direction. Plus, Mills said I could report on the process, as long as I didn’t divulge any information about the candidates or how I graded them.

So, I arrived at the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center on Oct. 14 a bit reluctant but intrigued.

Mills greeted the panelists. Joining me on the community panel were local philanthropist and homeless advocate Betty Chinn, College of the Redwoods Trustee Bruce Emad and Eureka City Councilwoman Linda Atkins. The department head panel consisted of interim Finance Director Wendy Howard, Parks and Recreation Director Miles Slattery, Chief Building Official Brian Gerving and City Councilman Mike Newman, while the law enforcement panel consisted of Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman, Humboldt County Sheriff’ Mike Downey and San Diego Police Department Capt. Dan Christman, who specializes in operational support and SWAT operations. An employee from Eureka’s personnel department joined each panel to help facilitate the conversation.

Mills explained his reasoning for the three panels. “As a department, we don’t treat people well,” Mills said, detailing why he wanted the candidates to have to field questions from a variety of community members. The department has sometimes acted as “an island unto itself” on C Street, he said, explaining why he felt it important to see how the candidates interacted with other department heads within the city. And, finally, he said he wanted the candidates grilled by some cops from other agencies who could really press them about tactics and critical incident responses, saying, “We need people who can slow these things down.”

Mills also shared what seemed to be a pretty blunt take on the state of EPD, saying the department has a morale problem, with fissures and some employee groups who haven’t historically played well amongst each other. (Mills assigned Kevil Gilmartin’s Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement as required reading for the candidates). The department is also only just getting a grip on the tenets of community policing, he said, beginning the process of a departmental culture shift.

Mills pressed the panelists to put the candidates on edge. The chief said he wanted to see the candidates sweat, see if they could articulate the department’s philosophy and ideology when put off balance by a potentially unfriendly panelist, whether it be a reporter who they think “may not be on EPD’s side,” a true-blue capitalist like Emad, a council member or some out-of-town police captain taking a critical eye to their training and know-how. Ultimately, Mills said, he wants the department’s next captains to be in line for the chief’s chair when he’s ready to move on, so the promotions are important. “Make it hard,” Mills told the panelists before making eye contact with Slattery specifically. “Miles, I’m counting on you.”

“This is the first time I get to make a cop nervous,” Slattery quipped, drawing laughs from the other panelists as they sipped coffee and nibbled at bagels.

From there, the panels set up in different rooms and interviewed the candidates one-by-one, asking each six questions (see below) and grading them in five categories, ranging from experience to ideology. Then, each panel ranked the candidates in its order of preference. Then, all the panelists came together with Mills and debriefed, offering feedback on the process — what worked, what didn’t — and evaluations of the candidates as individuals and a group. The discussion was fascinating, as each panel looked at the candidates through a different lens, using different metrics, but all came to virtually identical conclusions.

In an interview after the panels were complete, Mills said he was very pleased with the process and found tremendous value in it on multiple levels. First, he said the multiple panel process helped reinforce to the candidates that EPD is part of a greater community and that, “on order to be successful here, you really need to understand what the community wants in this democracy and police from that perspective.” Mills said he was also pleased that the three panels were nearly identical in their evaluations.

Mills said EPD will announce the captain promotions, as well as others to sergeant and dispatcher, in the near future.

The following is a selection of questions Mills prepared for the panels. The possible answers weren't provided to candidates but were given to panelists to help evaluate candidates' responses.

• Police Captain Questions

1. What have you done to prepare for the rank of Captain? (COM)

a. Training (Personal, Professional, POST, Other)
b. Education (Personal, Professional, Formal, Informal)
c. Experience (Acting Captain/Lieutenant, broad scope, other agency)
d. Community Involvement (personal, on-duty)

2. The problems in Ferguson and a recent opinion poll suggest there is a nationwide crisis in confidence with the police. This distrust is particularly true among young people and minorities. Eureka has some of the same challenges as seen elsewhere. As a leader how would you bridge this confidence gap? (COM)

a. Openness and transparency into EPD
b. Meeting with and listening to the community on policy, ethics and behavior
c. Taking and thoroughly investigating citizens complaints objectively
d. Creating programs where officers work with the community
e. Have a police oversight group/committee/panel

3. You are promoted to Captain for service area one. What would you do in the first 90 days to get to know the community better? (COM)

a. Meet with the community (Neighborhood watch groups, Chamber of Commerce, Eureka Main Street Association, Individual business owners, policy makers and community leaders. (The more specific the better)
b. Walk the community personally greeting people, introducing themselves and handing out business cards
c. Be part of Neighbor.com
d. Study the crime data for the area

4. Innovation is vital to the growth of a police department. How would you encourage new ideas and not stifle growth while maintaining control? (COM)

a. Read futuristic publications
b. Understand technology
c. Send sergeants and officers to classes
d. Foster a sense of experimentation with limitations and controls
e. Ensure communication with leaders is pervasive and thorough

5. In the past EPD has had a reputation of being discourteous to the public. Community Policing and a strong relationship with the community has been an unachieved goal for many community members. What is community policing? What have you done to bridge this gap with the community? What programs would you put in place to improve this relationship? (COM)

a. Community policing is the police are part of not separate from the community; the police serve from the communities perspective, involve themselves in community quality of life issues and problem solve crime problems; police from a decentralized perspective; are open and transparent to community over sight.
b. Walked and talked to the community in concrete examples of mixing with the community when possible.
c. Walking beats on barrel/overlap days, send officers to community meetings
d. Social Media
e. Effective Communications Training

6. Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview? (COM)

a. Each candidate should expound on why they are a good candidate without demeaning others

7. Your direction has been for your sergeants and watch commanders to call you on all serious violent crime. You have a watch commander who rarely calls you and when he does he has little valuable information. You have spoken to him about this several times and yet the failure to communicate continues. In most other areas he is a capable supervisor. How would you handle this person? (DH)

a. Find out from him why he/she fails to call.
i. Technology, desire, learning problems, etc
b. Document clear and concise direction to him
c. Write a reprimand for failure to follow orders and document in the evaluation
d. Send to training if needed
e. Progressive discipline with heavy documentation

8. An officer who is active in the EPOA is underperforming as a police Officer. She has the ear of other disgruntled members of the association and is very vocal. Your sergeant has spoken with her on two occasions about the same issue and her performance has not improved in that area. Overall she meets minimum qualifications but certainly qualified. Her sergeant wants to begin documentation of supplemental probation. What would you do to address the problem? (DH)

a. Make sure this is not a personality problem, if it is move the person to another squad.
b. Speak with the sergeant and officer separately and if needed together.
c. Analyze why the officer is disgruntled and what might improve performance and attitude
d. Go through the normal process of progressive discipline if all else fails
e. Assess the interpersonal skill of the sergeant and see if he/she is the problem
f. Document problems

9. You have been promoted to Captain. A council person had told you they are unhappy with a house that has been a neighborhood nuisance. You need the help of another city department with different priorities and pressures from Council. How would you work with this department to solve this problem? (DH)
a. The process begins before there is a problem. There must be a positive working relationship and familiarity with each other even though there are separate missions.
b. Meet face to face and discuss the problems and priorities.
c. See how the departments might be able to work together.
d. Find common ground and exchange ideas for collaborations.

10. An officer who works for you has recently come out and announced he is Gay. He did this with much trepidation as he felt he would be demeaned by his peers. His fears were correct. One supervisor sent him a text message debasing him for his sexual orientation. He showed the text to Human Resources but refused to show you when asked for it. How would you support this employee, protect the city from liability and deal with the supervisor who sent the text? (DH)

a. Sexual harassment is unprofessional and completely unacceptable. This is a bright line.
b. Explain to the employee that he is supported by the city and department.
c. Provide training to line staff explaining the rules (annual training anyway).
d. Confront the sergeant. If the phone is a city phone demand to see it and download it.
e. Take strong, decisive disciplinary action as needed.

11. You get a call in the middle of the night from a new patrol sergeant that shots have been fired at 123 Main Street. It is a three story apartment complex with multiple residents. The target apartment is on the 3rd floor and the subject is suicidal due to the loss of a loved one according to a neighbor. How would you handle this incident? What advice would you give? What are your major concerns? (LE)

a. Get dressed and en route immediately
b. Learn about the tactical configuration: hostages, active shots fired, injuries, collateral damage
c. Young supervisors need close supervision. Give explicit instructions of:
i. Control and containment of the situations
ii. Calm things down – use time, talk and tactics
iii. Get the right tools and personnel in place to resolve the situation without violence
d. Evacuation if needed, suitable place for residents to go for warmth
e. If possible don’t force a confrontation but work to resolve through negotiation
f. Get on scene and ensure procedures are followed and safety of personnel is in place if not make the adjustments
g. Continue to have the sergeant handle until beyond his/her capability
h. Debrief incident with team

12. A protest has sprung up in front of the court house. The protesters are very animated and radio calls have flooded Dispatch. Members of the protest group are standing on the lawn of the County Administration building and the County Administrator has asked you to remove the protesters or arrest them. Some protesters are committing minor offences, but are clearly expressing constitutionally protected speech. How would you resolve this problem? (LE)

a. First and foremost understand this is a constitutionally protected protest
b. Give wide berth on minor non violent offences.
c. Make contact with organizers re-enforcing their right to protest and the need for organizational control
d. Create a protest zone if possible
e. Watch for counter protest
f. Help the CAO to understand there will have to be a citizen’s arrest by the county under most circumstances

13. There has been much written lately about the “militarization” of the police in the press and academic literature. Are the police in danger of being too militarized? Is some level of militarization necessary and what would you do as a leader to ensure the police control the use of military equipment and only use it in a reasonable manner, one that protects and ensures constitutional rights are not violated? (LE)

a. Importance of policy and procedure
b. Community over sight
c. There is a need for some level of tactical superiority that may include military grade weapons
d. The understanding that the police are not the military and they have very different missions.

14. You are a captain of a service area covering a residential neighborhood. While looking at the quarterly crime report you notice there have been three sexual assaults in the past month. (LE)

a. A. What would you like to know about the problem from your staff and the crime reports?
i. Are they related and how. Is there suspect information. Will publicity hurt the case and if so how? Is it random violence or known victims?
b. It appears to you the crimes are related. Your detective sergeant has not recognized this as a problem. How would you handle it? Put him/her on notice. Find out why he does not recognize a series. Put policy or procedure in place to ensure this does not happen again.
c. At what point would you notify the community of this crime problem? How would you notify the community? Quickly. It is their right and need to know if random. Even if it hurts the case I would want the community to know and take proper procedures to protect themselves.

15. There are many challenges EPD faces in order to provide the best service to the citizens of Eureka such as budget, technology, personnel issues, changing crime threats, POST mandates, etc. What most significant challenges faced by EPD, what do you see as the future of policing in Eureka and where would you like to push the department? (LE)

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