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Monday, February 12, 2007

Interview with Police Chief Candidate Landy Black

At some point this week, the city of Davis will make its final determination as to whether or not to hire Captain Landy Black of the Seattle Police Department as the new police chief of Davis. I have been disappointed that the city of Davis has not had a more open hiring process to allow the public to get to know each of the candidates prior to decision. At this point, Captain Black is the only remaining candidate.

Last week on Friday, Captain Black was kind enough to sit down with me for a lengthy phone interview. I am extreme grateful for his time and hope the community of Davis appreciates this as well.

My honest assessment of Captain Black is that he says all of the right things when questioned on them. There were very few things that he said that I disagreed with. I am very hopeful therefore that he would be a good hire. I do have but one concern and that is that he seemed at times very polished and very rehearsed. I felt a bit of difficulty trying to get beneath that. I talked to a few others who interviewed him and they had a similar take. It is possible that is just his personality or style and that I read too much into this. However, that is my only hesitancy about him at all. As I say, based simply on what he says, he seems like an excellent prospect to be new chief and I look forward to working with him to improve the Davis police department.

What follows is an interview that I have mainly paraphrased.

What is your policy or thoughts on racial profiling? He said that he considered himself to be a very moral person and to have a very strong understanding of ethical considerations, and supports the need for integrity and responsibility in law enforcement. He believes that the Constitution is paramount and that laws will guide us to stay within the Constitution. Police officers have a responsibility to maintain order and preserve the quality of life. This extends to people who the police have to take law enforcement actions with. These actions need to be based on conduct rather than misperceptions based on who they are. And they Need to be based on conduct rather than the person.

Do you support gathering stop data which would include gender and race? It has been done in Seattle. The process tends to end up with statistics. Statistics are susceptible to interpretation and misinterpretation. They can be misused. The process would need to be extremely sophisticated and take into account the factors that put people into positions where they are approached by police. Sometimes statistics alone do not tell us a fair story. There is a need to ensure the type of leadership within the department that understands what is right. Law enforcement is the vanguard to the Constitution. Not that there are not going to be mistakes, however the goal of the use of statistics should be to help finely tune the police department as an organization.

What are your thoughts and proposals about diversity and cultural awareness training? They have a valid point. He has experienced quite an array of programs—some are very good and some are useless. Each program needs to be evaluated based on the message trying to get across. They need to be inclusive and convey to the officers the sense that there is some value in the training. He mentioned a particularly good one that they recently attended put on by a professor from Portland State. That would be the type of model he would support, but he feels the need to evaluate the organization and its needs first. He believes the program and training needs to be tailored to the organization as each individual organization has its own culture.

What is your experience and commitment to the community regarding hate crimes? He said that he feels very embarrassed as a member of our society when he hears about those sorts of things. He believes we are too advanced a society to have not gotten past this. He also believes that sometimes a police department can be saddled too much with the responsibility of changing social mores. Hate crimes are wrong and criminal. They need to be treated and investigated completely. But he also thinks society as a whole needs to take responsibility for changing things. Police departments are the reflection of the community in this regard and reflect the level of tolerance for this behavior by the community. He suggests that the police department is just one part of the process though—albeit an important one. As a police department one of the things he would like to be able to do is foster trust and allow people to participate in the process. He would like to be able to be at the table and have discussions with the prosecutor when they make the determination of how to prosecute such crimes.

How do you define "community policing?" How do you propose to accomplish that effort? He believes community policing is the soul and root of American law enforcement. He thinks that law enforcement has become perfunctory and procedurally orientated as society has grown. That law enforcement needs to be able to identify where the problems are in the community. That the community needs to help them identify where those problems are and that they can forge a strong partnership with the community to both identify where the problems are and create a partnership with the police to look for cooperative solutions. One thing he stressed was the need to eliminate actual problems rather than merely reducing a set of numbers.

What experience will you bring and what efforts will you make to outreach to the many diverse communities? He comes from an extremely diverse community in Seattle and he and his department have actively looked for ways to involve them. He wants to look for people disenfranchised with the process to bring them into the process. He wants outreach for people for whom English is a second language to bring them into the process to communicate their concerns. When people know the police beyond simply making 9/11 calls or writing letters of complaints, they communicate a greater level of trust and understanding. He wants to look at a variety of outreach methods and look for new modes of communication with all of the various communities.

What is your willingness to meet with groups and individuals in the community who have concerns or criticism of the police department and/ or yourself? He has no problem with that sort of thing. He believes that police departments are not doing service to the community if not communicating with critical people. But there is a dual responsibility. The community needs to inform them about where they can make improvements. Also wants to know when they are doing the right thing and not just the wrong thing.

What are your thoughts and experience about community oversight of law enforcement? Police are there to serve the community and should always mirror the community’s values. Professional accountability—i.e. civilian oversight works. There is strong evidence that shows that it works. He does not have a problem with it. He believes that it helps the police to see things in the broader perspective. The police should be the extension of the community and one way for the community to communicate concerns to the police is through oversight. He thinks the approach in Davis is a reasonable one. He looks at two factors: (1) What are the processes that the police department uses and will those processes get us to a solution? (2) Are the actions that they are taking—are they doing them correctly and in unbiased manner? He did have some concern that the separate bodies in Davis—the ombudsman and the Police Advisory Committee were doing some of the same work and suggested a need that each have specific goals and a specific set of expectations. There is a shared responsibility that is going on right now and he thinks that may be somewhat problematic.

Overall he conveyed the sense that he liked the department and he did not feel after meeting with the staff that there were problems within the department. While I do not get to see the department from the inside that is not the perception I have gotten from the conversations I have had in and around the city. He suggested strongly that he looked forward to working together with all aspects of the community to create the best possible police force and he felt that was paramount toward creating the best possibly community.

We should find out at some point this week if Davis indeed has a new police chief. My sense was that he felt his visit went very well and we will see if the city agrees.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting