New CPD command structure turns up noses on City Council - - Columbia, South Carolina |

New CPD command structure turns up noses on City Council

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A proposed plan to change the command staff at the Columbia Police Department has some City Council members concerned it allows micromanaging by city managers.

During Tuesday's City Council work session, Assistant City Manager Allison Baker presented a plan to change the current command staff at the police department by renaming the assistant chief position under the police chief to deputy chief and change three deputy chief titles to police majors to lead the operations, support services and administrative divisions.

Currently, the command staff has a police chief, assistant police chief and three deputy chief positions that lead in the daily operations. The assistant police chief and deputy chief of administration positions are vacant, as well as the city police chief.

"We think that it is important that we have made a lot of strides in our police department," Baker said. "We want to continue doing that. The interim chief now will have a say so in who is appointed. We also think that the city manager and I have to be heavily involved in the operation of the police department to ensure that we get headed in that direction that City Council is pleased with.

"So whether the current interim chief is appointed as chief or not, both (City Manager) Ms. (Teresa) Wilson and I will still have a vote in who gets appointed in these positions. We think it's important to move ahead and do that now." 

Mayor Steve Benjamin quickly responded to Baker and asked why it was so important to make the command staff change now when the city has not hired a new police chief.

"There are issues in our police department that need to be addressed," Baker responded. "From how we do our promotions, to how we do our discipline and just the direction. We need to get people in place that are permanently in place to improve the morale and the direction."

Wilson and Baker both informed Council that the interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago recommended the new command staff layout.

"Going forward, whoever the new chief is, we strongly believe historically that some of the things we've been dealing with have a lot to do with the command staff," Wilson said. "Right now, we aren't talking about individuals publicly; I can't imagine that we would, even if a new chief comes in externally that person would need to understand that there are people in the department right now that are able to move into these positions."

Benjamin then asked if the pay grade for the police majors and the deputy chiefs was the same. Baker said they will be. The mayor then repeatedly asked if the qualifications for those positions were the same, at which Baker eventually said they are.

"We decide what it is that we want," Baker explained. "There are basic qualifications in place. If we need to add something, if there is something we need, we add those things."

The three vacant positions at the Columbia Police Department are not listed on the city's website, but WIS did find two job postings for police officers. 

"I think the bottom line is in this interim stage we are in and moving forward, it is management's recommendation that this is the better structure and that is why we are bringing it to council," Wilson said.

Councilman Cameron Runyan agreed with Benjamin, adding he thinks the command structure is one reason for the continuous turnover by city police chiefs.

"My perception is that one of the problems we've had historically in the past with the police department is that we‘ve not set benchmarks of what we expect from the police chief," Runyan said. "… If we go in and micromanage every decision he or she is trying to make, I don't know how we can hold that person accountable for where we've told them to go. That's my real concern. You have to put somebody in charge and tell them where to go. Let them navigate how to get there and then hold them accountable."

Benjamin, as well as Councilwoman Leona Plaugh, agrees the police chief should handle all employment decisions, such as new hires and terminations.

"The chief is not given authority to run the department," Benjamin said. "That's essential to the challenges we face at the police department. Hire a chief. Authorize him to make decisions. Give him resources to do the job. If he flies, the entire team benefits. If he fails, he's held accountable, and we relieve him of duty."

Councilwoman Tameika Devine was the only member to voice her agreement with the manager's plan and said the City should move forward with the new command structure.

"No matter how many times we tell people crime is down, when there is a problem, the first thing people say is, ‘When are you going to hire a chief,'" Devine said. "Regardless of the changes at a certain level, we need some stability. If you have an identifiable structure and you have vacancies right now, I think that is causing some consternation now. The city manager, in her authority, can bring some light in the fact that we don't have stability, bringing some answer to that concern there."

Wilson has the authority as city manager to move forward with the proposed command structure without agreement from City Council. Currently, the city has placed the search for a new police chief on hold since the department is under a SLED investigation after criminal allegations were made by a former police captain.

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