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Candidates make cases to be next chief

By Chris Paschenko
chris@decaturdaily.com 340-2442

Although City Council members interviewed three candidates Monday for Decatur police chief, it could be a week or more before they reach a consensus.

Council President Billy Jackson said all three candidates gave good responses to questions about leadership and management styles.

Francis Donchez Jr., former police commissioner at Bethlehem, Pa., was the first applicant interviewed.

With his experience at a police department almost identical in size to Decatur's, his answers paralleled many of the views held by the administration on almost every level, including continuing education, community policing and disciplinary actions.

"I understand policing, especially as it relates well here as it does to Bethlehem, to Fairbanks, Alaska, or Los Angeles." Donchez said. "The bottom line is your looking for one thing from a police department; everyone should feel safe and secure, and if they don't trust the police department, then they're not safe outside. I feel I bring a mindset to the job that the citizens come first."

Tom Little, former deputy chief at the Morgan County Sheriff's Department, followed Donchez. He emphasized his background and training, including his 24 years of policing Morgan County.

"I retired in 2002 when (Sheriff) Steve Crabbe passed away," Little said, "but I didn't sit down in a rocking chair. I'll bring to the program the education and advanced training of a business management minor and law degree from the Birmingham School of Law. My record speaks for itself."

Ken Collier, Decatur's deputy police chief, had his interview delayed until 7:30 p.m. when the council broke at 6:30 for its agenda work session.

Collier, a Decatur police officer for 36 years, has taken over most responsibilities of the department with Chief Joel Gilliam set to retire Feb. 23.

Collier began his interview with a brief history of the department and spent the rest of his time describing his intense passion for Decatur and policing.

His vision — recruiting minority candidates, retaining the best officers and reconfiguring the administrative pyramid — answered many of the council's and mayor's questions in advance.

"Eighteen percent of our population is now black and we run 8 or 9 percent," Collier said.

"We're halfway where we need to be as far as the national average. We have six female officers, and we should have more than that. If were going to do this job the best that we can, we've got to do a better job at recruiting minorities. It needs to be at least 18 percent to reflect the community we serve."

Collier said he wrote the department's mission statement, core values and motto.

"I have the education, experience, desire and ability to take this department to the next level," Collier said. "I've been trained by the best, and I always felt we were on the brink of greatness."

If Gary Hammon, the council's liaison to the police department, had a favorite candidate, he chose not to reveal it.

"I have to cogitate on some things," Hammon said. "But I thought we had some very impressive interviews. That's why we need time to let this thing simmer to the top."

Jackson recommended the council convene about 30 minutes before its regularly scheduled morning meeting Feb. 19 to reach a consensus.

The council, which chose three candidates to interview out of 55 applicants, hasn't hinted on a time frame for hiring a chief.

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