New HPD chief coming from outside probably a good idea


It looks like the next permanent chief of the Hillsboro Police Department will come from outside the ranks of the department.

Sgt. Steve Browder resigned effective Friday from HPD after more than 20 years in law enforcement. He told me he may well return to the field someday, but for now he’s pursuing a private business opportunity.

Steve has been filling in as interim chief since Todd Whited resigned in December. Hillsboro’s citizens owe Steve some appreciation for that, because not every officer was willing to do it, understandably. With no promise of becoming the permanent chief and a lot more headaches and responsibilities, why go there?

But Steve was willing to do it, and it seemed to me that he did a good job. I liked Steve personally. He was always accessible and forthright with me. He said he is leaving with no ill will toward anyone, and I mostly believe him. Mostly.

So now, Sgt. Shawn Kelley has agreed to step into the role, knowing that he’s a bridge to the next, more permanent chief, whoever it may be. Again, he deserves credit for taking it on. Shawn is one of those guys blessed with ageless features and a youthful attitude. A lot people are surprised when they learn that he’s 41. I told him not to worry, the new job will age him quickly.

Shawn’s a good officer, and a particularly good liaison with the public. It will be good to see him around during the day more often than most residents saw him during his third shift duties the last couple of years.

The new criteria established by the city’s civil service commission for the next police chief requires, among other things, educational benchmarks including at least an Associate’s Degree or, preferably, a Bachelor’s Degree in law enforcement, criminal justice, public administration or a related field. It apparently guarantees that the next chief will come from outside HPD’s ranks.

Requiring such educational benchmarks is, in fact, common. I found an article written in 2008 by retired police chief Gary Brown, who had more than 40 years of experience in municipal government and who retired in 2001 as police chief of the City of Monterey, California.

In “Big Ideas for Smaller Police Departments,” a publication of The International Association of Chiefs of Police, Brown wrote some advice to potential candidates in regard to communities hiring a new police chief.

“Most hiring agencies desire candidates with a minimum of a BA/BS Degree from an accredited university in a related field of study,” Brown wrote. “However, in today’s market, many candidates have Masters Degrees. Generally speaking, a degree in a discipline other than criminal justice or police science is still desired. The chief of police is the lead police executive. As such, a degree in business, public administration, psychology, sociology, anthropology, or communication, among others that are related to executive responsibilities, is advantageous.”

While HPD has officers who would probably make a good chief, a fresh start with an outsider at the helm is probably a good idea.

Since Drew Hastings became mayor, his relationship with the police department has often been contentious, sometimes because of his own actions, other times because some officers – including at least two or three who are no longer with the force — seemed simply not to like him. Either way, a fresh start with an outside chief is probably the way to go.

In the aforementioned article on police chiefs, Chief Brown added this good advice to someone seeking the job: “Be respectful of the mayor/city manager in public. Stand behind and support the mayor/city manager and city council. Resolve problems before they surface. Have enough perspective to see the big picture for the city. Stand up for and justify their position on issues. Serve successfully as a good will ambassador for the mayor/city manager and the city as a whole.”

After he was sworn in Thursday, Shawn Kelley said that the Hillsboro Police Department is comprised of “wonderful, hardworking people.” That is undoubtedly true. Officers who put on the uniform and badge and step outside — be they with the police or sheriff departments — have exhibited more bravery with that one small step through the door each day than most of us exhibit in a lifetime.

The men and women who serve with the Hillsboro Police Department deserve the best chief who can possibly be found. The mayor and the safety and service director have their work cut out for them to make sure that’s who they choose.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.

By Gary Abernathy

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