Mayor Brand must make sure Fresno residents will help find the city’s next police chief

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer is set to set to retire from the department in October. The Fresno Bee file photo
Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer is set to set to retire from the department in October. The Fresno Bee file photo jwalker@fresnobee.com

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand will soon face the most important decision of his first term — hiring the next police chief.

Current Chief Jerry Dyer will end his 40-year career with the Fresno Police Department on Oct. 16 — a date that was finalized at the end of last week. Dyer’s longevity has been impressive, and he has set a high bar for his successor when it comes to being the face of the department and advocating both inside City Hall and outside of it for the 1,100 men and women of his department.

The Bee’s Brianna Calix reported that a local advocacy group, Faith in the Valley, is reminding the mayor that he promised Fresno residents would be involved in the selection process for the next chief. Brand said he will keep that vow.

The selection process, he said, “will have community engagement on a scale and magnitude never before seen in the Central Valley.”

The residents of the state’s fifth-largest city deserve nothing less.

To help Brand find candidates, a recruitment firm will be hired, and then the mayor’s process will begin in earnest.

What qualifications should prospective candidates have? Here’s several that occur to The Bee:

Applicants should have demonstrated experience with community policing. Ideal candidates will have supervised officers on their beats, with the goal being consistently present in neighborhoods, down to learning the names of residents and their concerns so crime can be stopped before it starts.

The pool of candidates needs to be diverse — men and women, people of color, representing cultures like those found in Fresno’s melting pot of diversity.

Applicants need to be great communicators who can engage one-on-one as well as in front of large groups. On any given day, Fresno’s police chief needs to comfort a crime victim as well as fight for his or her department in a city budget meeting.

In terms of the budget, the successful applicant will understand how to prioritize needs and offer a spending plan to meet them.

The next chief also needs to have political smarts. Besides the mayor, the chief has to at times placate council members and myriad people in the community. Sometimes that happens during a crisis, such as when an officer uses deadly force.

It would also be wise for the mayor to let the top group of candidates go before the public in a question-and-answer meeting. When the Fresno Philharmonic was selecting its next conductor, it had the top candidates actually lead the orchestra through a performance. Similarly, the top three picks (or whatever number the mayor chooses) for police chief should have to face the public in a live setting and take questions. Being able to show grace under pressure is part of the job of the next chief.

Technically, under Fresno’s charter, the city manager will choose the chief. But the pick is really the mayor’s, as it should be, because Brand will bear the consequences of success or failure. By assuring an open process that involves the public, Brand improves his chances of choosing wisely. That will be good for all of Fresno.

The stakes are high. Other than the mayor, there is no more public official in Fresno than the police chief. The selection process must meet his vow of public involvement and transparency.