The actions of a police chief are often under a microscope.
The chief sets the tone for the entire police department and how its officers relate to a community. That touches on a number of issues -- safety, emergency response, crime prevention -- that are integral in any healthy community. In other words, it's a big job.
So we commend the city of Farmington for its efforts at transparency in the process of finding a new police chief to replace Kyle Westall who retired late last year. Sharing information about the candidates -- the city has give The Daily Times copies of the candidates' resumes, which we have used in our reporting -- allows more people to offer input and opinions, helping ensure the new chief represents the values of this community.
A consulting firm narrowed the field from 52 applicants to eight candidates, who range from deputy chiefs in the Farmington Police Department to law enforcement leaders from Alaska, Alabama, Illinois, Colorado and California. On Thursday, the eight candidates met with members of six panels formed to represent interests throughout San Juan County and the Navajo Nation. Farmington's city manager, Rob Mayes, said he plans to solicit feedback from the panel members before hiring the next chief.
The panels included law enforcement professionals, public information officers, city department heads and interested community members. Also on a panel were members of the Farmington Community Relations Commission and a member of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.
That was a wise move, especially after city documents stated that alcohol use by the Navajo people is among the biggest issues facing Farmington's next chief. Tribal officials called those remarks -- which were made on the city's website in a document describing the region and the job -- insensitive. Farmington's position as a Navajo Nation border town means the city's police often interact with federal agencies and tribal police who patrol the reservation. And they have to navigate legal and cultural issues that can arise from being located next to a tribal sovereign nation. It's crucial that the next chief understands those issues and is willing to work hand-in-hand with the Navajo Nation to protect people both in the city and on the Nation.
The only gripe we have with the hiring process is that there are no events scheduled to allow the public to weigh in on the candidates. Because the police chief serves the public, it would have been helpful to have an event at which interested members of the public could meet the candidates and share their concerns and opinions. That would have added to the transparency of the process.
In an interview with The Daily Times after his departure, the former chief touted initiatives that increased transparency. Westall said that during his tenure, the police department improved in-car dashboard cameras and required that all patrol officers wear lapel cameras. And, he said, the department reached out directly to the community via social media and email-based neighborhood watch programs.
We hope the next police chief will recognize the value of transparency and make that a top priority.