Much criticism has been leveled about the process that yielded Selvain McQueen as Columbus’ new police chief.
After weeks of sometimes tortuous process and embarrassing revelations, the City Council Monday evening voted along racial lines doing what many said they intended to do all along.
While we don’t want to fan the flames of cynicism, we do think it worthwhile to consider lessons learned along the way.
Mayor Robert Smith, in the interest of transparency and wanting to save the city money while depoliticizing what was sure to be a politically volatile process, appointed a citizen search committee. Almost nothing went right after that. The committee’s choices were announced before background checks were conducted, and almost all the chosen candidates had some unpleasantness in their past.
At that point, Councilman Charlie Box made ill-advised comments about the candidates and called for a new search process. After Box’s comments three candidates in the running (two then and one later) chose to withdraw. Maybe Box was right, at least on the second issue.
A search firm would have done its vetting off stage, out of view and thus saved everyone a lot of unnecessary embarrassment. Knowing their names wouldn’t have been released until chosen, more attractive candidates might have applied. As it turned out, most of the applicants for the Columbus job were un- or underemployed.
We say this not to diminish the new chief’s accomplishment. We wish Chief McQueen every success. His selection is the culmination of 24 years of hard work. As he pointed out in his interview, McQueen well knows the city, its people and geography.
We hope Chief McQueen will take to heart some of the suggestions offered during the search process.
Almost every chief interviewed or who met with the committee said effective policing depends on a department’s relationship with the community it serves. McQueen has shown evidence of wanting to strengthen community ties by meeting with pastors and community watch groups and by his openness with the media. We hope he will do more to humanize his department. We’d like to see foot patrols downtown and in high-crime neighborhoods. A man or woman on foot is much more approachable than one cruising in a Crown Vic with windows raised.
Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong told the selection committee he thought it essential a chief be able to name his assistant. We hope that opportunity will be accorded Chief McQueen and that he will name an assistant with skills to complement his. A good leader is one who recognizes the strengths of subordinates, understands his own weaknesses and isn’t afraid to empower someone who will challenge him.
Again, we congratulate Chief McQueen. We urge the community to unite in its support of his selection. After all, his success is our success.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.