Looking for a New Kind of Top Brass
by Jamala Rogers
Madison is looking for a top cop. And so is a bunch of other cities. It reminds me of some years ago when a similar phenomenon was happening
with urban school district superintendents. I dubbed it the “superintendent shuffle.” The Black Lives Matter movement has forced a revolving brass
Back then, school districts were losing superintendents at amazing rates. The average stay was about three years if their luck held out. My home
state of Missouri should be in the Guinness Book of Records for the number of supes its two urban districts went through. In St. Louis, we ran
through eight superintendents in five years. If we look at a longer arc in Kansas City, 25 supes went through the revolving door in about 40 years.
The pressure on police departments for meaningful reforms has grown more intense since the Ferguson Uprising. The demands have not been
significantly different over the last 50 years. However, the chorus now is much bigger and more organized. Police departments — led by police
groups — have been resistant to any change. Fueled by the police murder of George Floyd, the movement is on fire and has now morphed into a
“Defund the Police” campaign. Police associations have doubled down on their refusal to change.
The national campaign for police accountability is having an impact. Major
Cities Chiefs Association represents chiefs from 69 of the country’s
largest cities. Almost 20 percent of their police chiefs have resigned, retired,
or been fired in a year. Recruitment for rank-and-file cops is difficult
enough, but to find a trusted change-agent to head a police
department…well, good luck with that.
Like other cities hiring their top cop, the Madison community has
demanded input into the hiring of its next police chief. It’s a rocky process
because cities aren’t used to having to share the decision-making with the
public. Basically, it’s been a hidden process with the mayor making the final
decision that citizens are stuck with.
Ramon Batista, a former police chief from Arizona, has moved to the front of
the panel of four candidates from all over the country. Before he abruptly
resigned from his post in Mesa, he had made some changes in the
department’s use of force policies. This naturally put him at odds with the
police association which in my opinion is not a negative.
Given the demographics of Madison, it’s unlikely that there’ll be a
substantial change in the racial composition of the majority white police
force. Among other issues, there must be changes in the high rates of force
that Black residents experience at the hands of Madison police.
Whether it’s choosing a school chief or a police chief, it boils down to
having a pool of candidates who best represents the qualities and
platforms the community needs. Otherwise, you’re picking between
tweedledee and tweedledum which compromises the results that fair-
minded people have been fighting so hard to get implemented.