Council should support Olson in police chief search

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Leadership changes are on the way for the Elizabeth City Police Department, but given the relative calm within the department during the last eight years, the transition should be smooth. The best chance of that happening is if City Manager Rich Olson is supported in his efforts to recruit a new police chief.

Current Police Chief Charles Crudup announced Tuesday that he plans to retire effective May 31. Crudup, who was hired in April 2007, will leave a department that has made in-roads combatting gang violence and the drug trade in the city. Although both require day-to-day vigilance — and there will certainly be future eruptions of gang- and drug-related crime in Elizabeth City — city police have clearly been aggressive in their response and in the arrest of perpetrators.

Crudup followed former Elizabeth City Police Chief William Anderson, another effective department head whose experience and expertise had a positive effect on local crime-fighting. Anderson, a 30-year police veteran who is now police chief for the City of Greenville, was hired in 2003 not long after Olson took the job of city manager. In addition to understanding crime-fighting, Anderson also brought more stability to the police department by reorganizing staff and making necessary personnel changes.

Previous to Anderson being named chief, Elizabeth City had been through four police chiefs in 11 years, dating back to 1992, when the late Clarence Owens retired from the department’s helm. Owens had been chief since 1948.

During that time prior to Anderson’s hiring, the department suffered from widespread internal turmoil, poor morale and a loss of credibility in the eyes of the public. Several lawsuits were filed by police officers against the city, including one filed by the former police chief who Anderson replaced — Trevor Hampton, who was fired.

The police upheaval of that period is not something Elizabeth City residents should tolerate again.

To insure that current improvements continue, it’s a good idea to acknowledge the factors that have created these changes. Police work, of course, is a job in progress, even though the public expects law enforcement to rise to new challenges and to be even better in protecting the safety and security of residents and local property. Consequently, the expectations grow.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed by this newspaper that management of the police department has improved under Anderson and then Crudup. But’s it’s also important to acknowledge that Olson recommended both for hiring and has been responsible for overseeing their performance during the last eight years.

Apparently, the selection process he follows and his working relationship with the police leadership are serving the people of Elizabeth City and we see no reason to change it.

Granted, to make a good choice, Olson must update and reevaluate the law enforcement needs of the city according to current police staffing and crime trends. His recommendation for a new chief should be based on who he believes will meet these objectives, not on political pressures or other extraneous considerations.

Granted, city council has the final vote on who is hired — they can either support or reject his choice — but it behooves that elected board to let Olson do his job, especially since his track record in that regard has been successful.

This time around, as in previous years, members of council will have their own preferences about how and whom to hire. Debate over the city’s law enforcement priorities is going to be part of the vetting process, and it may be useful by revealing considerations that Olson will want to include in his criteria for applicants. However, preferences for specific qualifications, such as whether the choice of a new chief should be an internal promotion or the result of a national search, have no place in the process.

A new police chief should be selected based on background, experience and other professional qualifications. The job is to manage the department, provide leadership and develop innovative and successful crime-fighting strategies. The public wants candidates with the ability to improve upon the current situation in the city.

We urge council to support the city manager’s efforts in finding a new police chief.