City Manager Robert Layton tells how he plans to choose a police chief

The decision on who will be Wichita’s next police chief belongs to City Manager Robert Layton.
The decision on who will be Wichita’s next police chief belongs to City Manager Robert Layton. File photo

City Manager Robert Layton says he hopes to choose a new police chief in early September.

The finalists are Joel Fitzgerald, police chief in Allentown, Pa., and Terri Moses, executive director of safety services for the Wichita school district. Gregory Stevens, assistant police chief in Lubbock, Texas, a third finalist, was promoted to police chief in Lubbock on Friday evening. His appointment still needs to be confirmed by the Lubbock City Council.

The Wichita police chief oversees the largest police department in the state, with 836 employees and a budget of almost $82 million.

A forum, where the public can meet the candidates and ask them questions, is scheduled for 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at Century II Convention Hall.

Here’s Layton’s description, sometimes paraphrased, of how he plans to choose the next chief.

1. How do you choose between finalists who have been described as terrific candidates?

That’s hard to answer, he said, because he doesn’t want to tip his hand. He doesn’t want the finalists to tailor their answers to what they think he wants to hear.

“Because I want to make sure these are authentic interviews, and I want to make sure I know who these candidates are.”

His nightmare would be to pick a chief and months later find out that he or she is not the person he thought they were.

2. How do you keep from going mad when so many people are giving you input? How do you please everyone?

It’s not easy, he said, but “what you need to do is listen to all the voices. I like to say the ‘usual and the unusual voices.’” He doesn’t want to discount anyone’s thoughts.

“At the end of the day, you just have to listen to the credible voices.” If someone has credible concerns about the candidate Layton chooses, he wants to make sure that the candidate addresses those issues with the community before and after the selection.

3. What if the mayor and council members don’t like your selection?

The council has been supportive – “they trust my judgment.” They pay him to perform.

When he consults with them, he is asking for their priorities and making sure that those match the person he selects.

But the decision is his, and the council doesn’t vote on the police chief.

When he talks to the council, “I’m not saying, ‘Who do you think I should hire?’”

4. How do police use-of-force issues here and nationally affect your choice?

He has asked candidates their position on use of force and when it’s appropriate. It is a major national issue now.

“What I’m looking for is a discussion of their philosophy” – not their preconceived notion of what their answers should be. He wants a “thoughtful response” because use of force is so scrutinized now.

5. What are the top three things you want from the next police chief?

It’s really a longer list of traits, he said, based on an assessment done by Wichita State University to determine what people want from a police chief. The traits include: a commitment to working collaboratively with people inside and outside the Police Department; innovative, out-of-the-box thinking; knowledge of how policing is developing nationally; strong communication skills; exemplary leadership; inclusive decisions; being data-driven; use of strategic thinking and strategic planning.

The chief position is different from others because it is so visible and requires so much interaction with the public.

“First and foremost, we need to have a police chief who can articulate what policing is today, recognize all the forces that come to bear on public perception of the department.”

The chief has to be someone who can manage a department responsible not only for protecting the public every day but also for recognizing individual rights and keeping the public’s trust, he said.

6. What makes the job here similar to or different from other police chief jobs?

He thinks the Wichita job is attractive because the community has “overall pride” in what police here do. The public is “overall supportive” because it sees police as being effective and keeping people safe.

“Whoever comes in has that, and I don’t think you can say that about a lot of departments” in the nation’s larger cities, he said. Wichita is now the 48th or 49th largest.

City officials and police have held community meetings to show they are sensitive to use-of-force and racial-profiling issues and responsive to concerns. “So the new chief when they come in won’t have to start from scratch.”

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

The finalists

Joel Fitzgerald

Job: Police chief, Allentown, Pa., since December 2013

Previous experience: Police chief, Missouri City, Texas, from 2009-2013; commanding officer for a narcotics unit in Philadelphia, where he began his law enforcement career in 1992

Education: Bachelor’s degree, Villanova University; master’s degree, Eastern University; doctorate degree, Northcentral University

Terri Moses

Job: Executive director of safety services for Wichita school district

Previous experience: Wichita police deputy chief from 1995 to 2013; with Wichita Police Department for 32 years

Education: Bachelor’s degree and master’s degree, Wichita State University

Gregory Stevens

Job: Assistant police chief, Lubbock, Texas, since 2004. Appointed police chief Friday.

Previous experience: Has worked for Lubbock department since 1992. Retired intelligence officer with the U.S. Navy and also served as a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, Wayland Baptist University; master’s degree from Texas Tech University