The extensive hiring process for Missoula's next chief of police is nearing an end, with the last two candidates taking questions Wednesday as part of a public forum.
The City of Missoula held forums this week for the final five candidates — selected from a total 65 applicants — to take questions from the public and give a presentation on law enforcement's role in addressing homelessness, arguably the most pressing issue facing Missoula police. Three candidates on Tuesday did the same in the first day of the public forum, which has been attended primarily by members of the Missoula fire and police departments.
Jaeson White, assistant chief with the California Highway Patrol with 28 years of law enforcement experience, said collaboration is key. He said Missoula has made a good start, pointing to many of the concerted efforts already underway in Missoula among law enforcement and businesses, advocacy programs and other city departments.
"That's a luxury a lot of communities don't have, quite frankly, in my experience," White said. "I can't give you the answer as to how we're going to solve this today, but I can guarantee as your chief, I would work with all of the stakeholders, personally, to make sure we are addressing all those issues for people that are in need of assistance, the businesses, the residents, the community as a whole."
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Darrin Grondel, executive director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission since 2012 and a former veteran of the Washington State Patrol, shared White's views on the importance of collaboration and a hands-on approach to connecting people with services to obtain stability. Grondel then told a story about his son: a young man addicted to heroin, who lost touch with his family, became homeless and stayed that way until family put him in touch with services.
"Oftentimes when you make contact with these people, individuals may not know about services available to them. They may not trust they'll be there for them," Grondel said.
White, in response to a question about the shift from a state law enforcement agency to a local police force, said the California Highway Patrol makes up duty stations across the state that essentially serve like local law enforcement stations geared toward crime on state land.
White said his greatest strength was his experience in leadership and innovation. His greatest weakness, he said, was being an "outsider" who doesn't have experience with the existing internal and external politics that affect the police department.
"I will be viewed as someone who's from the outside within the community, within the police department," he said. "In order to not have that fear, is for everyone to get to know me."
Grondel said collaboration and being able to work across different sectors was his greatest strength. His greatest weakness, he said, echoed White's; simply not knowing what he doesn't know yet about the department.
Grondel said motivating people within the department meant putting employees in positions to grow. That might include providing reimbursement programs to employees who want to continue their education in town at the University of Montana, he said.
Both candidates spoke about the need to care for officers' mental health wellness, and trying to find new ways to reach officers before the officers reach a breaking point.
White said creating a good retention of new officers means finding potential employees who are drawn to the public service of the job.
"We need to focus our recruitment effort on that message," he said. "A chief leading from the front is what drives that retention."