The search for a new Red Lodge Police Chief has stepped up. With Chief Pringle retiring in just over a week, Red Lodge Mayor Ed Williams has hired Bob Carden of Prothman — an executive search firm specializing in city employees — to find a new chief. Carden, a former police chief himself, has met with the mayor and city council, and is meeting with members of the police department today.
This morning, Mayor Williams brought in a diverse group of citizen representatives to discuss what Red Lodge needs in a police chief. The nine attendees included people from real estate, downtown retail, banking, media, construction, law, and various nonprofits, as well as concerned citizens who have voiced opinions and concerns about the police in the past.
Carden has 37 years of law enforcement experience, and has been police chief for three cities: Visalia, California; Marysville, Washington; and Lemoore, California. He opened by saying that he has worked in both large and small cities, and found that being police chief in a small town is, in many ways, a much harder job than being chief in a bigger city. He described the main qualities he’s looking for as executive/management experience, grant writing, and feet-on-the-ground police work. He expects the search to extend to five or six states.
Carden opened the floor to comments and questions — asking what we as a community are looking for in a police chief. Although each person had their own concerns, there were themes that ran throughout the comments.
The first of those themes was management. People feel that the current police force has no direction and no mission. Mike Keys, a local builder, said that he feels our police department should have a mission statement and a set of goals and objectives posted right on the city’s web site, as Bozeman does.
Humanization is another theme. Real estate agent Sandy Conlee said that there’s a disconnect between the police and the citizens. It’s important for the town to interact with the police and get to know them as people. Store owner Beth Steen agreed, calling it an “us vs. them” mentality and saying that her 13-year-old would not approach a Red Lodge police officer. Colleen Stevenson said that in her hometown there were police trading cards. Each officer had a card with a picture of them out of uniform and information about them. Kids went up to police officers and talked to them and asked for cards.
Discretionary enforcement is an issue that I raised at the beginning of the meeting. Red Lodge has a tourist economy and we don’t need people from Billings and Cody writing letters to the editor talking about being mistreated by police officers. Carden agreed, saying that many situations called for friendly warnings rather than tickets, but had to be followed up in the case of repeat offenses. Keys and Conlee pushed this point as well.
Drugs came up with several people. Joel Todd, a Red Lodge attorney, voiced his concern that marijuana is becoming increasingly accepted and legalized across the country and feels that our police force needs to be trained in dealing with it. Lyle Zimmerman, Branch President of First Interstate Bank in Red Lodge, said the banking industry used to be worried about bank robberies, but now they’re more worried about someone on meth coming into the bank and going crazy. Carden agreed, also pointing out that heroin is coming back with the younger crowd.
Another theme was crisis management. Todd said that Red Lodge mostly deals with typical small town police issues like parking tickets, underage drinking, and vandalism, but major issues like shootouts do happen, and when they do we need to be trained and prepared for them. Todd and several of the other attendees spoke about the importance of training the police to calm down domestic violence situations and prevent them from escalating.
The one-hour meeting concluded with Mayor Williams telling everyone that this is only the first in a series of meetings they will be holding regarding the police chief search. He said that his door and the police chief’s door are always open when citizens have concerns. Mike Keys said that this policy needs to be publicized better. The Local Rag is always happy to help, Mike! Consider it publicized.
This meeting was followed an hour later by another similar group, which had representation from Red Lodge’s hotels, restaurants, and bars as well as the executive director of the Red Lodge Area Chamber of Commerce. According to Mayor Williams, they raised almost exactly the same set of issues.