By Calvin Palmer
Sometimes I feel like a voice in the wilderness, the only person to see the flaws in what the vast majority are more than happy to accept.
So, I was heartened by a report in The Florida Times-Union yesterday, where Mike Hallett, the chairman of the University of North Florida’s department of criminology and criminal justice called for the creation of a new police department in Jacksonville, with a police chief hired by the mayor subject to the approval of the city council.
Being British, I find the notion of an elected police chief abhorrent. In Britain, the chief constables of the police forces are appointed on the basis of ability alone, rather than toeing a party political line. In fact, police officers are disbarred from being a member of any political party.
A police chief should be the best man for the job based on his crime-fighting abilities, organizational skills and leadership, not on his ability to glad hand voters at election time and say the things that voters belonging to a certain political party want to hear. Policing is far too important a task to be left up to the voters of any city, let alone Jacksonville, to decide.
One the one hand, Jacksonville is more of a sleepy one-horse town than a city; it is conservative in both nature and politics. There are those who would argue that the good old boy network is just what the city needs and someone who has lived in the city all of his or her life is perfect for the position.
But Jacksonville is also notorious for being the murder capital of Florida, not the best of labels to have when trying to persuade companies to bring jobs to the area or trying to gain a larger share of the tourism market. The level of serious crime suggests the need for a police chief from elsewhere in the country and one who has a proven track record of reducing the crime rate.
If an appointed police chief is good enough for Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, why not Jacksonville? Is it the case that it is only pretending to be a city and would prefer to remain a town where, in certain areas, drug dealers — short of taking out an ad in the local newspaper — ply their trade with impunity?
I appreciate that, in these harsh economic times, police resources are being stretched to the limit but I also cannot help feeling that a police chief directly accountable to the mayor and city council may well do a far better job than is being done at present.
Most people have to meet the demands of a results-driven working environment, why should a police chief be any different?
And if the city did opt for an appointed police chief, there would nothing to stop Sheriff John Rutherford from applying for the post and competing against other qualified police officers for the position. It could be that he may well land the job and then residents would know for sure they had the best man in place rather than someone who simply has the blessing of Republican Party supporters.