New chief, new direction - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

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New chief, new direction

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Posted: Thursday, February 6, 2003 5:23 pm

Now that Chandler's embattled police chief, Bobby Joe Harris, has retired on terms he insists are his alone, the city manager and council should seek a new chief who understands that he or she is to serve on their terms.

Harris served the public well and honorably for most of his nearly 32 years of the force. He had earned an excellent reputation by the time he was named chief, and his wife Judy had also earned high regard as a member of the City Council.

No one can take that away from either one of them. What can and should be said, however, is that Bobby Joe Harris stayed on a bit too long. Clear evidence of that was his arrogant reaction, and his attorney's threat to sue, when two members of the City Council raised questions about his performance — as they have every right to do — and even a duty to do, if they see a need.

The chief of police is to serve the public, not his or her own ambitions. It was time for Harris to retire the moment he forgot that and sent a clear message that he was above criticism.

Chandler should cast a large net in its quest for a new chief. This is a booming city that not long ago was a small town, with a small-town approach to governance. What worked fine 10 or 20 years ago may not work today. The demands of this transformed office require the very best law enforcement talent and experience the city can find and afford.

It also requires the ability, regardless of talent and experience, to listen and be open to suggestions and criticism. Every member of a community has a big stake in public safety and pays good tax dollars for it.

In many respects the Chandler Police Department is a fine agency, and that is due in no small measure to Harris. It also has some serious problems, including a murder charge against a former officer, a pursuit that led to an innocent person's death, and troubling questions surrounding the death of a SWAT team officer.

Chandler's interim chief, David Neuman, has pledged to use the lessons of the past to improve the department during his tenure. Regardless of how long Neuman stays in charge, it is a welcome approach that ought to be considerred a requirement for the job.

The public deserves no less.

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