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Santa Maria Residents Weigh In on Criteria for Next Police Chief

First of two forums gives the community an opportunity to outline the leadership skills and other qualities they deem important

Santa Maria residents say they would like a friendly chief of police with a “fresh set of eyes” so that he or she can boldly address issues within the Santa Maria Police Department and focus on training officers.

Those opinions and more surfaced Monday night in the Council Chambers during one of two community forums planned for this week to assist in the nationwide recruitment of the city’s next police chief. The second forum, in Spanish, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Veterans’ Memorial Community Center, 313 W. Tunnell St.

Officials are hosting the forums so community members can share their expectations of leadership skills and characteristics for the search, which began last month.

Retired Los Angeles County Cmdr. Ralph Martin is serving as interim chief. He replaced longtime Chief Danny Macagni, who resigned in August after being placed on leave.

About a dozen residents made it to Monday’s forum, which marked the first time the city has done this type of outreach regarding an open position, according to City Manager Rick Haydon.

“This is a very important position for the city of Santa Maria,” he said.

Haydon instructed those in attendance to divide into groups of six or seven to answer two questions that would identify the leadership skills and attributes of a chief. The second question asked residents for areas they thought the chief would need to address.

After both groups collaborated with pencils and notepads, a spokesperson from each reported to the whole group.

Etta Waterfield, a candidate for Santa Maria City Council, said her group decided residents need a chief with 15 to 20 years of experience who can communicate issues to the public and train officers to prevent other problems. She said a chief should have integrity, respect, networking skills and be able to organize the department.

“This is what we’ve seen with our interim chief of police,” Waterfield said of Martin. “He’s been very keen on identifying so many complications. We really feel that training is our top priority for our police officers.”

The second group emphasized a need for community policing and for a chief who is both bilingual and bicultural, said Helen Galvan, a candidate for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District board of trustees.

“Someone that understands the culture diversity of people in Santa Maria,” Galvan said. “Someone who will recreate the trust with the community that’s missing now. We’ve talked a lot about moving forward … but we still think we need to go back and investigate what has gotten us to the point where we are now.”

Haydon said the skills and issues gathered at both forums, which were written on large sheets of paper and hung in the back of chambers, will go to those screening applicants and to the board interviewing candidates.

In addition to the forums, Haydon said, the city will post a five-question online survey on its website.

Santa Maria is accepting applications for the new chief through 5 p.m. Nov. 14.

Interviews are tentatively scheduled for Nov. 29 and would narrow the field down to the top two candidates, Haydon said. A police chief could be appointed by mid-December and start in January or February.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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