How to Hire a Chief of Police
By Tattler Editor Brian Donahue
After the recent retirement of long time Emeryville Chief of Police Ken James, the City Manager and the City Council are soliciting Emeryville residents to offer tips on the selection of a new chief (in a special e-mail account set up for citizens to drop comments COPrecruitment@emeryville.org). City Hall is right to seek out the people's opinions directly because this is going to prove a very daunting task for Emeryville. It's going to be quite difficult to find a replacement as good as Chief James was for our city. That's not a piece of post retirement laudatory fluff to honor the memory of Mr James. That's a fact. Ken James did an excellent job as Chief of Police for Emeryville. How do we know that? Well for one, the Emeryville Police Department enjoys an unprecedented level of support from the community.
The last time a survey was taken, a remarkable 85% of Emeryville residents gave their police department a favorable rating...that's practically a pure inverse of how neighboring Oakland residents feel about their police department; a telling statistic.
It's no secret I think Emeryville cops are good. But being a property owning middle aged white male, someone from my demographic group thinking cops are good is to be expected. I've done my own unscientific surveys on Emeryville Police over the years. I've asked people outside the white middle class traditionally pro-cop demographic, "Have you ever been stopped by the Emeryville Police? Did they behave in a professional and courteous manner during the stop?" The answers have been consistent: Emeryville police are good. Remarkably, even an alienated demographic normally highly suspicious of police, young African American males, have told me Emeryville cops are good. Insofar as this sentiment I've found is fairly representative of African Americans and other people of color in our town, this is a testament to a specific talent Ken James brought to the job; the ability to hire good cops, non-sociopath cops to serve on the force here.
Regular Tattler readers will recall I have long sung the praises of EPD. But I'm not pro-cop. I recognize and acknowledge many police departments are highly dysfunctional and there are plenty of outright sociopaths in blue walking around our nation with guns and the right to arrest. No, I don't love cops but I do like our police in Emeryville. The reason for that is the 'good cop' culture here. And Ken James is responsible for that. Ken kept the 'badge heavy" cops out of EPD.
Chief James was good at hiring new officers. He was good at sorting out the good ones from the bad ones. He told me many times it's a hard task. People will lie in their job interview. That's how the badge heavy sociopaths make it through the hiring process at police departments. But not in Emeryville.
I don't mean to be imprudent with this but if you look at who is attracted to police work, the level of sociopaths is higher there than in the general population. The same is true for soldiering. This is born out by academic studies and this is what Ken James acknowledged in his telling of his difficulty in hiring, though not explicitly.
So our problem comes into focus: Ken James was a better than average Chief of Police because he could recognize good recruits. If we select a new Chief that is only average, and that's the most likely scenario by definition, then we could start seeing sociopathic cops on our force in Emeryville, polluting our good cop EPD culture and tipping us over into a bad cop culture like Oakland. And that we must vigorously guard against.
We are unlikely to get a new Chief of Police that will be as good at hiring new cops because there are no clear qualitative pathways for us to get that. Ken James never did a satisfactory job in explaining exactly how he hired cops if it even could be explained. But we can make sure our new Chief understands and acknowledges the looming and existential problem of sociopathic badge heavy cops. Our new Chief needs to admit entropy is the natural state and it's what happens without vigilance and intervention from the Chief and the public. We need a new Chief that will assure us he/she will cull bad hires during the probation period while they're easily removed and before morale suffers. We need the new Chief to understand we expect a high degree of professionalism in the rank and file. We expect our Emeryville police to be courteous even. We need a Chief that is amenable to setting up a citizen/police watch group with real power in case this whole thing doesn't work out. We need a Chief that can gain the trust of the most alienated among us; our youth of color, the dispossessed and the homeless.
These are the kinds of questions we need to ask applicants seeking this most vital and consequential position in our fragile town. If we lose the good cop culture here at EPD, our town is sunk.