Next police chief must be personable, open

Johnson City Press • Feb 8, 2018 at 7:45 AM

As Johnson City considers who is to replace retiring Police Chief Mark Sirois, we encourage city leaders to pay close attention to each applicant’s ability to not only serve and protect, but to connect with the community.

Sirois’ last day is slated to be Feb. 16, and the city has narrowed the list of applicants to five finalists, two of whom are from within the Johnson City Police Department. A choice could come any day now.

The next chief will inherit numerous public safety challenges, not the least of which are the opioid and methamphetamine epidemics plaguing the nation. Our region is in the bullseye of both, and local law enforcement agencies are forced to devote considerable resources to mitigation efforts. Gun violence also comes to mind. While Johnson City has not experienced the surge in crimes involving firearms seen across Tennessee, we are reminded of three gun-related murders in our coverage area in 2016. One occurred in Johnson City in July, and it remains unsolved.

The next chief also will be challenged by Sirois’ personable legacy. When he announced his retirement in October, Sirois cited his commitment to community policing as a highlight to his six-year tenure as chief. He initiated the grant-funded Targeted Community Crime Reduction Project in the Mountain Home and downtown areas. That program led to the formation of the Johnson City Community Roundtable, which was intended to further the JCPD’s relationship with residents.

“Community policing encourages cooperation and collaboration with citizens to solve short- and long-term community problems,” he said.

Unlike in some communities across the country, the relationship between the JCPD and the city’s black leadership appears amicable. Sirois was among those the Langston Heritage Group honored at this year’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast in January. Again, Sirois’ community policing philosophy was the focus.

The next chief must not only maintain and foster those relationships, but further them with even more active investments. All Johnson City residents — regardless of ethnicity, faith or economic standing — should be able to know and have confidence in those entrusted with their safety.

Now more than ever, we consider it essential for law enforcement to be accessible and accountable to the public. Police all too often are viewed with suspicion and doubt, and the only ways to combat such perception are through openness, familiarity, fairness and responsible policing.

We encourage the next chief to maintain open communication about police activities. During public safety concerns, the chief must clearly and quickly articulate detailed information to the public, utilizing all tools available. Johnson City’s residents deserve and should expect nothing less.

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