The search for the next Chapel Hill police chief is underway, as the current Chapel Hill Police Chief and Executive Director for Community Safety Chris Blue will retire in December after 25 years of service to the Town of Chapel Hill.
While Blue's successor has not yet been announced, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said that candidates from within the Chapel Hill Police Department and across the country have applied for the position.
The applications will be considered by a committee. The selection of candidates will then participate in phone interviews, as well as in-person assessments and evaluations. Hemminger said Town Manager Maurice Jones will make the final decision.
“We've made a lot of progress in our policing in the last several years to make sure that we are not creating disparities in the way we keep our communities safe,” she said. “So it's going to take somebody who wants a willingness to work together with lots of different groups and be out in the community.”
Hemminger said the Town hopes to have a successor chosen well before Blue departs at the end of December.
Blue said he hopes that the police department will continue to recruit and retain the kind of employees they currently have as they move forward.
“Policing here is different than it is in most communities, we expect more, and we expect a certain mindset,” Blue said. “There's an organizational culture here that is unique.
Blue says his advice for his successor is to listen to the department's employees and to the community.
He also added that serving the community requires a police chief to engage with people, make oneself available, share information and adapt to feedback even when it affects policy and priorities.
“I think one of the characteristics of successful Chapel Hill police chiefs – and I've seen this in all of my predecessors in my time here in my 25 years with the department – is a real focus on what the Chapel Hill community wants and expects from its police officers,” Blue said.
Over the course of his career, Blue saw an increase in technology, including the implementation of car and body cameras and the replacement of handwritten reports and files with computers. He said these positive innovations have significantly changed the way the department works in terms of evidence collection, investigation, accountability and oversight.
Blue says there’s also been progress in policy with the Chapel Hill police department considering disparities in traditional law enforcement practices and communicating with the community to mitigate those disparities.
“We've moved the needle in terms of law enforcement in North Carolina in many, many ways right here in Chapel Hill with some of the policy decisions we've made and some of the operational philosophies we've embraced,” he said.
Blue said that many of the changes implemented over the course of his career have been a direct result of “difficult but necessary conversations” with the community about policing because of events across the country that put policing under a microscope.
Chapel Hill Mayor Pro Tem Karen Stegman said that Blue has helped make the CHPD more representative of the community and grow the Crisis Unit, which recently hired its first peer support specialist.
“It's close to his heart that they're here to really care for the community, not just sort of police it in the traditional sense,” Stegman said.
Blue said that anyone going into policing now has an opportunity to confront the state of policing in our country. He added he encourages his officers to not run from challenges and questions about policing but take it head on.
He said that both police chiefs and people just entering the field have to acknowledge the fact that police action taken in another jurisdiction in the country might lead to questions about how their police agency may respond in a similar situation in Chapel Hill.
“I talk to our officers often about how every interaction you have out in our community is an opportunity for you to demonstrate what you are about, and what our department is about,” Blue said. “And to demonstrate that what they saw on the news that horrified them is not who we are.”
He said his departure is bittersweet because he loves the job and his teammates across local government but is excited to see what the CHPD will do next.
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