I attended the city of Fayetteville’s Police Chief Candidate Forum at City Hall. I wanted to see for myself what a national search for a new police chief would yield.

The city rolled out the candidates the day before during a news conference. I watched, but I wanted to see up close and personal how interim Chief Anthony Kelly and his competition, deputy chiefs Gina Hawkins and James Hinson Jr., handled themselves in public.

I was both impressed and disappointed. Each gave good answers to questions from moderator Stephen Strauss. He’s the city’s hired headhunter.

There were also disappointing answers. Some were laden with ear candy catchphrases and the latest police jargon. Overall, though, they were interesting answers that gave insight on where each stood as crime fighters.

And to be fair, some of the questions were so general it was hard to answer any other way. They each had to walk a fine line by telling citizens they would fight crime on their behalf yet treat everyone their officers encounter with respect and kid gloves.

They were aware of nationally publicized incidents of unwarranted or excessive use of force by police and how that resonated in parts of this community. And their answers were dead-on. 

They all said involving the community to fight crime is necessary because the police force can’t do it alone.

The “it takes a village to fight crime,” aka community policing, is as true now as it was in the 1980s and ’90s. 

But when it comes down to it, I’m not sure how much the police can depend on the community to help fight crime. It doesn’t matter how many dance routines or street basketball games patrol officers participate in. People don’t want to become involved unless they’ve been victims of crime. 

As I stated on social media, I don’t know if I can be objective about my choice of a new police chief. 

As a work colleague, I’ve seen Kelly rise in the ranks from patrol officer to a member of the chief’s staff. I left the city in 2006, so I haven’t kept up with his accomplishments. But since his appointment to interim chief I’ve had the chance to renew our acquaintance.

City Manager Doug Hewett appointed Kelly as the interim chief after Harold Medlock unexpectedly relinquished the post last September. According to officers and people associated with the department, they say Kelly’s done a good job. Another mentioned he might spend too much time in the office.

Well, sometimes chiefs have to spend time in the office, especially during budget preparation season. It’s what chiefs do. Besides, I too think he’s done a yeoman’s job. And he knows the community. There’s no learning curve. As he said during the forum, “I watched this city grow and I grew with this city.”

Kelly’s chief rival — I believe — is Gina Hawkins, the deputy chief of Clayton County, Georgia. Her resume is impressive as is her poise and ability to schmoose the public. She has 28 years of policing experience that has served her career well.

James Hinson Jr., the deputy chief from Greensboro, is well qualified. He has the credentials of someone who spent 26 years in a department that serves one of the largest cities in North Carolina. He is a man of faith who referenced God a few times during his answers. But he lacked the smooth rhetoric displayed by Hawkins.

Among his novel ideas was to place stress analyzers on officers to track their stress levels. That could be a good thing for the officer and for citizens they may encounter. 

The selection process whittled down 30 applicants. It vetted the select few during an arduous process that included psychological evaluation, interviews by a former police chief, role-playing in simulated crisis scenarios and making budget presentations. A group of “community leaders” paired with police officers from other jurisdictions scored the results. Kelly, Hawkins and Hinson came out on top.

Who will be the next chief? It all depends on what we’re looking for and who makes the decision for the rest of us. See for yourself. Check out the video of the Police Chief Candidate Forum on the city’s website at fayettevillenc.gov/government/city-administration/police-chief-search.

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