Thursday, August 10, 2017

Behind-the-scenes help gets a nod for all those talks about law enforcement

In the process of making a film, there are people who help in small or large ways but who have no paid or official roles.  That's why you see "Thanks To" or "Special Thanks" credits.  Not that everybody who deserves a "thanks" gets one!
Anne Kirkpatrick is sworn in
as Oakland chief March 1, 2017

Memphis native and now Oakland police chief Anne Kirkpatrick consulted with us while we were making the feature doc, Who Will Watch the Watchers?  We talked in spring 2016 about the city of Memphis search for a new police chief, and Kirkpatrick was interested in the job.  She was friendly, open and generous with her time, even if I called her too late at night for someone who was in the Eastern time zone -- not Pacific as I had expected -- and had to get up early the next morning to do her job training police chiefs for the the FBI.  

Kirkpatrick worked for the FBI, traveling to train command staff in U.S. cities, including Memphis, when the top cop job came open.  We talked about police practices, her philosophy and goals, and broader things that helped me shape a director's perspective while researching a film.  She enlisted me to keep her up to date on Memphis news related to the search. 

Kirkpatrick had been one of only two national candidates to be recommended to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel after a $500,000 search by the Chicago Police Board in 2015-2016. This followed the firing of CPD superintendent Gary McCarthy in the wake of the LaQuan McDonald killing by a Chicago officer.  Despite the costly, national search and the strong recommendations for Kirkpatrick and Dr. Cedric Alexander, who at the time was public safety director for DeKalb County, Georgia, Emanuel rejected the board's report and hired from within the existing Chicago department. But, he told Kirkpatrick at the time that he had a special role in mind for her.  

In June 2016 Kirkpatrick was named to head the Chicago's new Bureau of Professional Standards with the onerous task of cleaning up CPD and going beyond reform to "change hearts and minds," she said.  In January, Kirkpatrick left CPD to become chief of police in Oakland.  Many current and former Memphis police department police directors and deputy directors know Kirkpatrick, mostly from her sessions training them in Memphis.  Kirkpatrick told us she thought highly of the Memphis command staff, and the feeling was mutual, according to those she trained.  

When it came time for Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to appoint a new director of police services, he hired Michael Rallings from within.  Mayors presumably are under much pressure to do that.  Nonetheless, Strickland had made a big deal out of the city conducting a "national search" for a new top cop to replace Toney Armstrong.  They hired the International Association of Chiefs of Police to recruit for the position, although there was a mysterious gap between the time Strickland announced the search in January, 2016, and when it officially was authorized in May, 2016.  The city said they spent $40,000 or so for the search fee and perhaps about that much more in time and expenses interviewing, lodging and entertaining candidates and meeting with the search entity.  

The city went through the charade of bringing four national candidates into Memphis -- for interviews, ribs at Rendezvous and an intro to the city -- even after Interim Director Rallings had already been annointed as the presumed heir to the position after his role in the Hernando DeSoto Bridge shutdown July 10, 2016. Perhaps Strickland thought he could have a learning experience that he could bank for the future by playing out this "national search."  

The mayor has not revealed to us any of his thought processes, however, nor has he ever responded to our interview requests. (MPD at least called us back and said officially "...we decline to participate" but wished us well.) 

The only time we got a call back from Strickland's PR team was after we talked to people at the International Chiefs of Police and they alerted Ursula Madden that we were asking questions. Madden called me in what I would describe as something of a frenzy.  We wrote a story and sent a link to Richard Ransom, then anchor at Channel 3.  Ransom did a "cop search" story every night that week, then got Strickland on the "Informed Sources" show for that weekend.  Within days of our calling out the city for foot-dragging and by late Friday afternoon, suddenly the search was up and running.  

At no time did the search firm contact Kirkpatrick.  Why not?  Let's underscore this.  The police search group did not contact a Memphis native and top-rated national candidate who trained existing Memphis police chiefs and command staff.  She was good enough to train us but not be one of us?

Nor did they contact Alexander, who was actually offered the CPD chief job by Emanuel -- who then reneged under pressure by Chicago aldermen.  At some point, we wrote an analysis about the Memphis cop search. Jerome Wright, then editorial page editor at The Commercial Appeal, contacted us about using it for their Sunday Viewpoint section. I realize that these types of pieces often are written by advocates or experts inside an industry or profession, who are pushing an agenda; but sometimes they are written by AP or actual journalists. For some reason, I had this idea I might be knocking a journalist out of money -- I was just writing as a journalist, not an "expert" on anything or someone pushing a position -- so I inquired if there were any compensation for the piece. Just asked. Unsurprisingly, that's the last I heard of it. 

We also talked with Alexander during this time, including about police practices and philosophical issues. Alexander had been a member of President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and he wrote a book, The New Guardians: Policing in American Communities for the 21st Century. The President's Task Force made the point that officers should be guardians, not warriors.  

Alexander asked us to spend some time in Georgia, where we would have unlimited access to his department, he said, and make a documentary which he thought would be a good fit for CNN -- for whom he was a frequent law enforcement consultant.  We did not follow up on that offer, but we appreciated the thought.  Although Kirkpatrick and Alexander did not know it, those conversations helped as we made Who Will Watch the Watchers?  And we are thankful. 

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