Friday, January 8, 2016

A Point of Concern

I'm a bit concerned about our new Police Chief, Dean Smith.  A pattern of ducking the media is already developing--and he's officially been the chief for less than a week.

You may recall that when the City had narrowed the field of finalists for Chief to four, they were brought back to Oshkosh for a "meet and greet" with the public at the Convention Center.  Our reporter, Todd Armer, went down to the event to talk to all of the finalists (because let's be honest, the vast majority of you weren't going to spend an hour of your busy time to try and talk to those guys when we can do it for you and give you their responses the next morning).  The only one of the candidates who refused to talk with Todd was Dean Smith.  He told Todd that he would be "happy to talk to us if he got the job."

A few weeks later, Smith's hiring was announced late on a Friday afternoon--a maneuver we in the media like to call a "News Dump"--as newsrooms are usually less-staffed at that time, and it's far more difficult to get ahold of an official for comment--as they've cleared out of their offices too.  And that was the case here, as a call to Smith's Suffolk, Virginia Police Department office was never returned.

Then imagine my surprise on Tuesday when I'm reading through the daily report from Oshkosh Police--which is usually a litany of domestic disturbances, drunk driving stops and drug arrests--and there is a two-line mention that Chief Dean Smith was sworn into office on Monday.  I immediately went through my emails and deleted messages to see if I had missed a notice from the City or from OPD about that ceremony (likely sent late on a Friday afternoon).  When Scott Greuel took over as chief there was such ceremony.  The same for when Kevin Wilkinson took over in Neenah and even when James Lewis took over as interim Police Chief in Appleton.  It's nothing fancy.  The Chief takes an oath, says a few words about what he hopes to accomplish and then asnwers questions from the media. 

But, I never did find notice of such a ceremony for Chief Smith.  I was eventually directed to the agenda for the Oshkosh Police and Fire Commission meeting on Monday--which did feature the swearing in.  I'll grant you, this is "public notice"--you just need to click through four links on the City website to find it.

What is concerning to me (and hopefully to you) is that in an age of increasing public scrutiny of police actions--due in large part to the protests stemming from police-involved shootings--those who lead our public safety departments need to be out front and available to those they serve and protect.  And so far, Chief Smith is doing a fine job of staying out of the public spotlight.  An invitation to join us on WOSH before his first "official" day on the job on Monday will be extended to Chief Smith--hopefully he doesn't give us (and you) the stiff-arm again.

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