Search for Nome police chief progresses
A second round of advertising to fill the position of Nome Police Chief has produced more applicants for the job and the City of Nome administration is in the process to move into the interview phase with five candidates.
The position became vacant when Robert Estes quit on November 8, 2019 after having been on the job for only one year.
According to City Manager Glenn Steckman, the first round of advertising did not yield more than two applicants. A second round, which closed on January 17, produced a different result. “There were ten applicants from all over the country, including Alaska,” said Steckman. He declined to specify if any Nome applicant threw his or her hat in the ring.
The process of selecting a new police chief is different from the last time around. A newly created Public Safety Commission is now part of selecting a new chief of police, given that the past two years were marked with public mistrust vis-a-vis the Nome Police Department on account of allegations that sexual assaults and other violent crimes were not adequately investigated.
Public pressure lead to the creation of a nine-person Public Safety Commission that is charged by ordinance with promoting the provision of law enforcement to all residents with sensitivity, cultural understanding and racial equality. Also among the commission’s stated purposes is to provide an alternative method for accepting citizen concerns relating to officer conduct or suggested changes in public safety department practices.
The group has met, selected five candidates out of the pool of 10 to advance into the interview phase and has mulled questions that the candidates will be asked in the interview. Steckman said he will offer the candidates the choice of a private or public interview. The interviews are tentatively slated to take place on Sunday, Feb. 22 and will be held on the Northwest Campus.
The city manager makes a recommendation to the Nome Common Council and the council hires by contract the Nome Police Chief. Steckman said the Public Safety Commission is part of the partnership to advise the administration on who the next chief should be. After two or three finalists are chosen, the administration will conduct background checks and also integrate councilmembers to ask questions. Steckman hopes to have a catalogue of 20 to 25 questions that don’t overlap, on a broad host of issues. He wants to know who the candidates are able to manage a budget, how to manage a staff of young and rather inexperienced police officers, how they manage a communication center. On the forefront of Nomeite’s concerns are getting a police chief who is able to handle a workload of domestic violence, sexual abuse and child abuse cases and leading a department that competently investigates crimes and upholds the law indiscriminately. Steckman said that during his time here in Nome he has learned that the city needs to do a better job at training and “onboarding” new police officers. “Everybody needs to understand that we have a very young police department and experience does count. There are good people working at NPD, and it’s just that we have to make sure that they get the proper training and access to that training,” Steckman said.
He said that the city is contemplating to bring in another investigator as the case load is significant. He said there are currently 20 open and active cases being investigated, seven stemming from this year alone, including the killing of a young woman.
Steckman reiterated his goal to move towards having the Nome Police Department undergoing a process of certification. He explained that once a new police chief gets on board, the process can begin. “It’s going to be a process that will probably take at least two years to even get through the certification process,” he said. The advantage of such a rigorous and lengthy undertaking is that it brings a review by an outside entity that would evaluate if NPD’s policies and procedures are correct and would update those policies and procedures on a regular basis as certifications are only valid for three years.
Steckman said that currently he has a strong rapport with acting NPD Chief Mike Heintzelman and he expects strong communications from the next chief as well.