Partisanship in Public Safety Executive Selection
Dave Oliveria, columnist and associate editor of The Spokesman-Review, asked that question in his Huckleberries Online weblog post Question No. 2: New Spokane County Sheriff on Wednesday, April 12, 2006.
My opinion: Partisanship matters less when the nominating or appointing bodies are committed to selecting the most professionally qualified person. I've emphasized "professionally" because when the nominations of candidates or the appointments to fill vacancies are made by political parties, political loyalty and the nominee's controllability by the party or appointing body can be given more weight than the nominee's professional qualifications.
In a comment to Dave Oliveria's post, "Bob" said, "It was pretty amazing three R Commissioner's broke party ranks for this guy. I think he was the only one with a college degree. It's amazing to me that cops place so little emphasis on college educations in top level posts (see: Roger Bragdon)."
Bob's comment is just a little off. It's rarely cops who set the selection criteria. Those are usually set by the jurisdiction's governing body or by a committee following the guidelines provided by the governing body. The political dynamic in setting those criteria and who will be allowed to apply or be considered is well beyond the scope of this blog post, but as noted earlier, controllablity and political loyalty can often be major factors.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police has offered some recommendations for developing law enforcement chief executive officers with the knowledge, skills, ablities, education, and traits that will prepare them to perform duties professionally as public administrators in the 21st century. The recommendations are in Police Leadership in the 21st Century: Achieving & Sustaining Executive Success. The 47-page report was released in May 1999.
Since the newly-appointed Spokane County Sheriff, Ozzie Knezovich, was the only applicant among the three who had a four year college degree, here's part of what the 1999 IACP study recommended for education:
"Chief executives must bring a strong foundation for education to the job. Survey contributors overwhelmingly recommended a minimum of a bachelor's degree to lead an agency of under 100 employees. A third of the contributors believe a master's degree constitutes proper and adequate educational preparation to lead an agency of 100-500 employees. A distinct majority, 74%, believe a master's degree constitutes proper and adequate preparation to lead the largest agencies in the country." (Note that "employees" refers to all employees, not just sworn officers, troopers, or deputies.)
For the public to receive cost-effective, timely, professional law enforcement services, the administration of law enforcement agencies must be in the hands of competent, experienced, qualified public administrators. We won't get them unless we demand them. It sounds as if Spokane County residents have put that demand on the table and the Spokane County Commissioners have heard it. Let's hope that demand spreads.