The last of seven public meetings to discuss Eugene’s search for a new police chief will be held 6 pm Oct. 26 at the University of Oregon’s Ford Alumni Center. The city is seeking community input and says it will use feedback to finalize the job description and to make a hiring decision.
The new chief will replace Police Chief Pete Kerns, who has announced he will retire from the department at the end of the year and go to work at St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County.
Kristie Hammit, interim assistant city manager, opened the Oct. 19 meeting at Gilham Community Church by talking about the purpose of the forums. Hammit says the city hasn’t defined the interview process and that the city wants a “transparent process.”
In addition to hosting forums, the city is working with a Texas recruiting agency, Strategic Government Resources, to assist with its search. Eugene City Manager John Ruiz will make the final hiring decision. When asked why Ruiz rather than the mayor and City Council makes the decision, Laura Hammond with the city manager’s office says the city manager form of government allows the city manger to make the hire.
Four people attended the Oct. 26 meeting. They were handed three note cards that read: “I’m glad Eugene has a police force that… ”; “If I were writing the job description, I would include… ”; “My ideal police chief is someone who… ”
Community members at the meeting said they want a police chief to be friendly to people of color and who will ensure that officers abide by the same standards — adding that they want a chief who does not view the police as a separate entity and don’t want to see an abuse of power.
Lloyd Zimmer, who attended the meeting, says he wants a police chief “to enforce the laws in an equitable way. It’s a tough task and will take a special person. There are a lot of challenges here — it’s a great community, with all of its warts.”
Over the past two decades, EPD has had problems with officers breaking the law and harming people in the community. In 2005, officer Roger Magaña was sentenced to 94 years in prison for raping, harassing and sexually abusing more than a dozen women. In the same case, trainee officer Juan Francisco Lara was sentenced to five years for coercing women to have sex with him while on duty.
In 2013, EPD officer Stefan Zeltvay was convicted of sexually harassing coworkers, however; he didn’t serve any of his 140-day jail sentence and was allowed by the judge and jail officials to stay home and wear an electronic monitoring device, according to The Register-Guard.
The city has also been asking community organizations for input. Lee Gilmore commented by email on behalf of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). “We appreciate the transparency with which they’ve conducted the process so far, and their apparently genuine interest in hearing from a wide range of community members. We also hope that in the end the process will transcend mere optics and result in a police force that genuinely works to act on the concerns that we and the other groups participating in the Human Rights Work coalition have raised,” Gilmore writes.
The Civil Liberties Defense Center, a nonprofit that is also part of the Human Rights Work coalition, has met with the city to voice concerns, according to Associate Director Charles Denson.
“Most of the way that they have been accepting input is from these notecards that they are passing out at the meetings, where they have three questions all framed in what are positive things about the police, and I think that only gives you one side of the coin,” Denson says.
Hammit says one of the most important issues raised at the forums is safety. “I think people have a heightened awareness around working with all of the diversity of our community, helping people feel safe, having a high quality of life and dealing with all of the livability issues. Again, so our community can be safe and welcoming for everybody — that’s come up quite a bit.”
Hammit says all of that information gathered together from public meetings will “inform the job description and the hiring process.”
“We’ll take all of that information, the city manager will get a chance to see all of the direct comments that we’ve been collecting, and we’ll use that information to inform the job description, but also, even more importantly, informing John Ruiz so that he understands what’s important to the community,” Hammit says.
Denson hopes to see the community meetings extended so that more people have the opportunity to attend.
“I also think them being more honest in realizing that there are concerns or critiques of the police department and the police chief and having the questions framed in ‘What are some of the problems in the current police department? What changes would you like to see?’ and framed more in the sense of realizing there are changes that are needed and being open to hearing and asking those things,” he says.