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Community Input Sought in Winston-Salem Police Chief Search

February 6, 2013 | Keri Brown

The city of Winston-Salem is looking for a new law enforcement leader.  Police chief Scott Cunningham announced his retirement in December. Residents had an opportunity to give their input on the national search at a public meeting Tuesday evening.

Nearly two dozen community members gathered at the Hanes Hosiery Recreation Center in Winston-Salem Tuesday night to express their opinions about the city’s police chief search.   

Daniel Dwight lives in the eastern part of the city.  He has volunteered for several community programs with the police department since 911.  He says strong leadership skills are important to him.

“Citizen’s complaints are down since he has taken over. I was chairman of the committee that reviewed citizen complaints, so I know for a fact they are down with his leadership, that type of leadership, someone who sets the way and leads by example,” says Dwight.

The city hired a Durham-based consulting company called Developmental Associates to spearhead the search for a new police chief. The company has helped conduct similar law enforcement employment searches in several North Carolina Communities including, Burlington, Asheboro and Wilson. 

Residents in the South Crest neighborhood off of Main Street are concerned about an increase in break-ins and drug trafficking in their community. Margretta Rice says she wants a police chief who encourages more one on one communication with residents.

“We are looking for more community patrolling. I would love it. We have a lot of crime going on in our area, too much. The police use to walk the community a long time ago when I first moved over there and then it just stopped and when it stopped crime increased, so I would like to see them come back,” says Rice.

Social activist Darryl Hunt also attended the meeting. Hunt was wrongly convicted of murder in 1984 and exonerated after almost 20 years in jail. He says he would like the new police chief tap into resources to help former prisoners become productive community members.

“I want to see more support for people that have been incarcerated and not being quick to lock them back up. We need to help them find employment and housing instead of finding something criminal that they are up to or supposed to be up to,” says Hunt.

Some other key issues residents raised at the meeting include building trust in the community, conflict resolution, and the ability to work with a diverse population. Zuleima Villa is a student at Winston-Salem State University. She wants to see more diversity in the recruitment process.

“Our Latino community is growing very rapidly here in Forsyth County. One of the big things going on right now is that many of them don't have licenses or identification cards and sometimes that are unable to communicate when they get pulled over and tell them that they don't have one. That can lead to other problems and it can snowball from there, so if we can bridge that gap and strengthen communicate we can solve a lot more issues,” says Villa.

Steve Strauss, president of the consulting firm Developmental Associates, also met with members of the Winston-Salem Police Department to gather their input on the candidate search.

“Something that wasn't mentioned Tuesday night is that most of the senior staff are going to be retiring within the next few years and a real challenge of the next chief is to be developing those young leaders who can develop those leaders who will move the department forward over the next few years,” says Strauss.

Candidates must apply for the position on-line. Around 20 people will be selected from the screening process. City Manager Lee Garrity says community members will have a chance to interact with the top contenders.

“We will continue to get community input from our website. Then, the consultants will be drawing up the actual job description and searching nationwide for the best candidates. There is a very detailed screening process before we bring in the top seven or eight candidates and then in early May we will bring in three of the finalists for the community to meet,” says Garrity.

Residents can also call City Link to share their thoughts. Garrity says an advertisement for the position that will go out next week. He says the new police chief should be in place by the end of June.

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