SP Residents Offer Input in Search for Police Chief
Dorothy Brower has two key attributes that she is looking for in a new Southern Pines police chief.
"I would like to see someone with experience in dealing with drugs as aggressively as the dealers bring it into the community," Brower said. "I would also like to see a chief who will continue to be visible in the community, and ensure that other staff and officers are as well."
Brower was one of about 20 residents who showed up Wednesday for a public input session hosted by Town Manager Reagan Parsons and Steve Straus, a consultant hired by the town to help identify the new chief.
John Letteney, who was hired in 2005, resigned last month to become police chief in Apex. Parsons appointed Bob Temme, who had overseen the Police Department's community relations and professional development, as interim chief.
The search for a new chief has a fresh approach this time in that Straus conducted focus groups with town staff, the department and the public. Input from the three groups will be used to design exercises that will help him assess job candidates.
"Every community has unique expectations and demands," Straus said Wednesday. "The screening process will be driven in large part by what we learn from you."
Suzanne Coleman said she was concerned about recent armed robberies in downtown Southern Pines.
"People are a little uncomfortable because it's occurring during daylight and on holidays," Coleman said. "It's a little unnerving."
Parsons acknowledged that "the current situation is not a good one" but is not unprecedented.
"I'm in no way downplaying it," he said. "But I don't want to suggest that the last three months is completely out of the blue or has never been seen before."
Coleman said she understood that providing crime information to the public is "a balancing act" for police.
"I know they want to catch the perpetrators without alarming people," she said.
Parsons noted that crime in Southern Pines has decreased overall in the past decade.
"With the exception of drugs," he said.
Parsons lauded residents for raising "good points" during the give and-take with Straus.
"I think the information gleaned will be very useful to him," Parsons said.
"Ultimately, it's my decision, but these focus groups are truly an important part of the process."
Mayor David McNeill said he was impressed by the diversity of the turnout.
"I think excellent feedback was provided by a sampling of the community representing different sections of town," McNeill said. "They provided good input on the characteristics and skills they'd like to see in their next police chief."
Town Council member Jim Simeon said he was glad that residents "felt free to share their thoughts."
"That is very important, given the magnitude of the hiring decision," Simeon said. "I have total confidence that Reagan will hire an individual of the highest quality with a proven record of success."
The job was posted last Dec. 20, and applications will be accepted through Feb. 10.
"There's a good deal of interest in this position," Straus said. "You have a legacy of some pretty outstanding police chiefs, and we certainly want to help continue that legacy."
Straus said the online application contains standard questions and others germane only to Southern Pines.
"It takes some time and effort to complete the application," he said. "But it gives us an 'apples to apples' comparison because no two resumes are alike."
Straus said the field of candidates will be whittled to no more than 20 after the initial screening, and to no more than seven after a secondary screening.
"Then they will be here for interviews and further assessment," he said.
At that point, the remaining candidates will go through about four exercises, each judged by a separate team that will share its observations with Parsons.
"No candidate is perfect," Straus said. "But interviews alone only measure oral communication, knowledge and judgment. Beyond those competencies, interviews are highly 'fakable.' So the exercises are truly important.
"The entire process gives us a deep understanding of the skills and competencies of each candidate, and that will predict success in the position."
Once Parsons selects the top candidate, Developmen-tal Associates will conduct an intensive background investigation before the hire is finalized.
"It's a rigorous two-week process," Straus said. "It's our job to provide Reagan with accurate and thorough information from start to finish. It's his job to hire the new chief. It's imperative to get an outstanding chief and get that person on the job as soon as possible."
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the p ilot.com.
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