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Guest opinion

Community questions for TPD chief candidates

With the special legislative session about to begin over the K-12 funding settlement and the City Council and county bond elections coming up, not much attention has been afforded to our city’s current search to replace outgoing Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor. The sparse coverage given the search for Chief Villaseñor’s replacement does a disservice to Tucsonans, given how important the job of police chief is and in light of the nationwide attention currently on community-police relations.

In an attempt to add a bit more depth about these candidates, I have dug into each finalist beyond what is found on their resumes and offer my own summation of their law enforcement careers as well as questions I believe should be posed to them when they sit down with various committees set to interview them. I have also updated the column given that one of the four finalists, Larry Esquivel, withdrew his name from consideration for unspecified reasons. Now to the first of the three candidates for chief:

Malik Aziz

He currently serves as the assistant chief of the Dallas Police Department and national chairman of the Black Police Association. In his role with BPA, Aziz has made numerous media appearances discussing the strained relationship existing between police and many communities of color. In these appearances, Aziz has stressed the need to have a police reflective of the community in which it serves. This has bearing in our own community. According to a recent survey reported by Cronkite News, the Hispanic community in Tucson represents 42.6 percent of the whole community. Yet, Hispanic officers in the police force comprise 25.3 percent. When interviewed, Aziz should be asked what specific steps he would take as chief to address the diversity gap among the Tucson Police Department.

Another noteworthy fact about Aziz is that he has been a finalist for an open police chief position in at least four other cities across the country (San Antonio, Miami, Raleigh, N.C., and Fayetteville, N.C.). There could be two way of thinking about this. On one hand, he could be touted for having made the final cut in each of these cities’ searches. On the other, it becomes a question of why he was not offered the position by any one of these cities.

A possible reason may be Aziz’s most recent reassignment away from the Field Divisions Bureau (which included commanding SWAT and overseeing security for the State Fair of Texas) to an administrative command with the Support Services Division, which might indicate that Aziz fell out of favor with his police chief, David Brown. It should be said that Brown is a controversial figure in Dallas right now, as a number of police associations and city council members are seeking his removal citing allegations that Brown is vindictive and punishes those who disagree with him. Perhaps Aziz offered sound criticism of Brown’s policies and was punished as a result, as alluded to by an article in the Dallas Morning News. Or, it is possible Aziz was not performing up to standard and was moved to another department less vital to the mission of the Dallas police force. This should be a line of questioning for Aziz to explain.

Rick Gregory

Gregory has over two decades of law enforcement experience as a Florida highway patrolman. He followed that up with about two-and-a-half years as chief of the New Castle County (Del.) police, which encompasses a population of over 500,000 people. He dipped into politics in late 2010 serving as the state director for the successful U.S. Senate run by Democrat Chris Coons, who filled Joe Biden’s vacant seat. Coons began his public office career in New Castle County when Gregory was its police chief.

Gregory has also served in other capacities: one as a senior researcher for an organization (Institute for Intergovernmental Research [IIR]) that researches, evaluates, and offers training protocols for police departments across the country. His work with IIR could prove highly beneficial for knowing what police department reforms and practices have proven effective and could be implemented here in Tucson. However, this could also be a detriment if Gregory is set on certain policy changes without appreciating the unique characteristics of Tucson and its police department.

Gregory’s most recent experience as a police chief was in mid-2011 when he became the chief for the town of Provo, Utah, which is home to Brigham Young University. He resigned from the position just shy of two years. In his resignation letter to the Provo community, Gregory cited a need to return to his hometown in Ohio and make it his and his wife’s “permanent home”. With just over two years in Ohio, Gregory is applying for a job that would bring him and his wife to the Southwest. There could be a very reasonable explanation as to why he no longer wishes to put down permanent roots in Ohio, but this should be asked of him during the interview process. The city should select a chief who is committed to staying on the job for a significant number of years and Gregory should make assurances that if he is selected he has sincere intentions to fill the role of police chief for a significant number of years.

Another issue is that of his experience. Gregory’s experience as a police chief are in Provo (population 124,000) and New Castle County, where, though the county as a whole has a population of over 500,000, the largest city under his watch held a population of around 70,000. He now is applying to become chief over a city with over half a million people, high rates of poverty, and a nearby international border. Has his past experience prepared him for success in Tucson?

Christopher Magnus

Rounding out the finalists is Christopher Magnus, who holds a MA from Harvard’s JFK School of Government and served as the chief of police in Richmond, Calif., for the past nine years (population 115,000) and, prior to that, Fargo, N.D., (metro population 175,000) for six years. Magnus has been in the national spotlight as the police chief in Richmond. He earned both support and criticism, including from the Richmond police union, for holding a Black Lives Matter sign while in police uniform. He is also known as one of the few openly gay police chiefs in the country. However, Magnus is best known as chief over a city radically transforming itself.

A suburb of the Bay Area, Richmond was once rated as the one of the most violent cities in the country, but since Magnus stepped into the chief role, murder rates have fallen dramatically. Key to those declining rates, according to Magnus, was effective community policing, explaining:  “(T)he challenge is: is community policing really policing the community in the way that the community wants to be policed, or is it driven by the police department? Our approach has been to have a little more of a partnership where we want the community to help us define what its priorities are and where resources should go.”

Other noteworthy pieces of background on Magnus is that he and his police department have been in court frequently and Richmond police have been the subject of public scrutiny following instances of officers using deadly force.

In 2007, seven high-ranking police officers under Magnus’ command sued the city for $18 million alleging Magnus and his former Deputy Chief made frequent racial jokes and racially discriminated against them. A jury sided with Magnus and the city and the case was dismissed. This past April, following his termination from the force due to domestic violence and possessing unregistered firearms, a former officer is suing the Richmond and Magnus for wrongful termination, alleging that in 2009, Magnus made sexual advances toward him and faced retribution after complaining to his superior officer about it. And this past January, a Richmond police officer fatally shot an unarmed 24-year-old (Richard “Pedie” Perez), stating that the young man was attempting to reach for his firearm when resisting arrest. The Richmond District Attorney issued a report calling the officer’s actions justified, but the young man’s family filed suit alleging that eye witness accounts contradict the officer’s allegation that Perez attempted to grab the officer’s firearm. This is the first police deadly shooting under Magnus’ command and it has resulted in elevated tensions in the community. More could be inquired here, such as what lessons (if any) Magnus might have learned from how the department responded following the incident that could be used here in Tucson following an officer-involved shooting.

Similar to the line of questioning for Gregory, Magnus’ interviewers should ask him to explain how his experiences in Fargo and Richmond prepare him for much more populated city in Tucson. The violence that was prevalent in Richmond as Magnus took the helm and the steep decline in homicides that occurred after Magnus instituted radical reforms to his police department are definitely noteworthy. However, with over 500,000 people, Tucson represents a much bigger scale and scope than Magnus has experience dealing with as a police chief.

Moreover, and this should be applied to all the candidates, what does community policing mean in concrete terms here in Tucson? For example, does it mean conducting several community forums to get feedback? Does it mean changing policies in how line officers perform their functions and, if so, what changes specifically?

The coverage of the legislative session and upcoming elections are well-deserved. But so is the search for our city’s new police chief. While there has been some additional background provided on these three candidates, they are sparse. In digging into each candidate, I hope to have provided a bit more insight about them and to spur lines of questioning that may help the city select the best candidate for the city’s top police officer.

Derrick Goodrich is a proud Tucsonan with a laptop and some free time.

An adjunct faculty member at Pima Community College, Derrick Goodrich is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a graduate of the University of Arizona, the University of Chicago, and the University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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