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Friday, April 13, 2007

Commentary: Police Chief Landy Black Takes Over Police Department Facing Numerous Challenges

When Landy Black was sworn in as the tenth police chief in the history of the City of Davis, one was tempted to congratulate him on the one hand and apologize to him on the other hand. By most accounts, Black is a good and dedicated police officer, with good family and a strong support network. He also has vast experience running a very diverse precinct in a very diverse part of Seattle. He will need all of these assets to survive in Davis.

The problems faced by Black as he enters Davis will be both internal and external. By now people are well aware of the external situation. There have been long standing and credible complaints in this community about police misconduct. That has resulted both in numerous citizen complaints, lawsuits, and a general atmosphere of distrust in segments of the community.

The situation boiled over last year to the point where the animosity and distrust were mutual. He spoke specifically to this point both in February when I interviewed him and this week as he was sworn into office.

In February, when I spoke to him, he stressed the importance of communication. 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. They also want to know when they are doing the right thing and not just the wrong thing.

This week he spoke this this concept of communication and community involvement once again.
"It has been mentioned that there is a sense of a need for respect, a respect of people of all classes and all sense of diversity, and that is something that I am committed to... However it is important I understand that the community needs to be involved in the process of leading their police department and I am the conduit by which that information is conveyed to our officers. And I am committed to and will continue to always look for any opportunity for those who are allies and stakeholders in the concept of safe and livable cities to communicate with me about the manner in which we can go about obtaining that lofty end."
This was a theme picked up by former UC Davis Police Chief Calvin Handy in our interview last month:
"I am not an expert on the DPD at this point. [But,] I think that the DPD is in need of solid open community embracing leadership. If you look at the issues of the past 18 months and perhaps before, the DPD needs a good new police chief with good ideas and build ideas and build some trust, I’m not saying there is completely no trust, but there are areas where trust is lacking and this is where the new chief can made a bigger impact. The new chief needs to be open to community input. This is a good department but the number one need is a good leader who is open and accessible and approachable."
It is not merely the public however that needs a new commitment of leadership.

In the Ombudsman's report in February, Bob Aaronson spoke to "the need for quality leadership and clear supervision that uniformly holds people accountable."
"Without intending to disrespect the hard work of current and former supervisors and administrators, it does appear that the turnover in staff, and particularly in chiefs, has undermined the organization’s supervisory chain of command, its vision and its morale. By all reports, these problems pre-existed the Buzayan incident. There is no more critical decision to be made for the Department in the next twelve months than the selection of the next Chief of Police."
Mr. Aaronson's critique is exactly right in my view, and this has been a problem that has plagued the police department since the day that former Chief Jerry Gonzales was forced to step down as Police Chief.

Chief Landy Black will face immense challenges is within his own organization if he is to set about making changes to the supervisory structure.

I have some concerns about the willingness of some of the old guard leadership that still exists in this department to make the kind of concessions and changes that are needed to bring about both changes in the command structure that Mr. Aaronson refers to, that are necessary for a changed approach with the public that Chief Black clearly desires to take place. It is here that I sense in several conversations some reluctance of certain high ranking police officers in the Davis Police Department to make the necessary changes and even embrace the new leadership of Chief Landy Black.

I left the reception Monday on the one hand hopeful that Chief Black with his strong experience and solid support structure and upbringing could indeed be the person that this community needs to lead the police force. Everyone who I spoke to, who had any sense of history with Chief Black, affirmed his character and commitment. These attributes do not seem to be in doubt. One can tell the character of a person by their family and their associates, and from those alone, Chief Black seems to be a person of outstanding commitment and character.

However, I also left concerned about the enthusiasm and commitment of the old guard in the Davis Police Department. Some of the sergeants seemed very cold and distant when asked their feelings on the new police chief--some of them even evasive when asked about their feelings of the new chief. It is these people that either are going to need to fall into line or be removed if Chief Black is going to succeed. With the Chief be able to get rid of some of these officers who seem to so clearly have been a problem for the last decade if not longer? That is a tough task to ask a new chief, but that will be a very important and telling factor in whether or not Chief Black is to succeed where his predecessors have not.

As I say, I have nothing but support and respect for Chief Black but he is going to have a very tough task ahead of him. Congratulations and good luck.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting