Bill Cochran, a longtime veteran of the Topeka Police Department, was chosen as the city’s new police chief on Friday.
“I just want to thank the governing body and the citizens of Topeka and the city manager for having the faith in me to take this next step and lead our agency forward and the city of Topeka,” the 31-year veteran of the capital city’s police force said to a crowd at the city’s Holliday building. “We’ve got a lot of great ideas and Topeka’s a great community to live in. Proud to live in it.”
Cochran was named TPD’s interim chief in November. He has been with TPD since 1987, working as a homicide detective and a bureau commander. He also served 20 years as an officer in the Kansas Army National Guard and was deployed to Iraq from January 2004 to February 2005.
The other two finalists for police chief were D. Samuel Dotson, of St. Louis, and Dominic Rizzi Jr., of Yakima, Wash.
Topeka city manager Brent Trout acknowledged naming a veteran of the police department speeds up the transitional process for the person named to the permanent chief position, rather than if an out-of-state candidate had been chosen, given that he himself was recently hired from outside Kansas.
“It could have (taken longer), it definitely could have,” Trout said, “at a time when we don’t have a lot of opportunity to waste. We really have some direct issues that have been going on. We are still trying to make sure that we’re reaching out to the community, engaging with the community, determining where we’re having any shortfalls in that whole process.
“For me, I think it’s important, because I saw what kind of relationships Mr. Cochran has in the community. That definitely weighed on the decision-making process that he has the relationships, he’s got a track record of doing it. I just felt that was an important component.”
Newly elected Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla said Trout’s gathering of community-wide input and conducting a national search bore “amazing people” for the city’s next chief of police.
“Somebody new probably would have been probably great, great energy,” she said, “but it would have taken a lot more time to get engaged in the community, understand the culture, understand the employees, understand the players and then start effecting change once you start understanding.”
“Chief Cochran understands the department, he’s been groomed in that department,” De La Isla continued, “he understands the community. It’s his home. He’s the right choice.”
Topeka’s police chief faces serious challenges. Last year, the capital city had a record number of homicides, of which 10 of the 30 cases remain open. The city has had two homicides already in 2018. He will also have to deal with deteriorating community relations in the aftermath of the Sept. 28 police shooting of Dominique White, which provoked protests and criticism of the department.
Cochran said it will be sometime next week when the internal administrative review of the White shooting is released.
“It took a little bit longer than I was hoping,” he said. “It’s an extremely extensive case file. It’s very thorough and there’s a lot of information there. It will be done next week, for sure.”
Cochran hasn’t released the names of the two officers who were involved in the fatal shooting of White on the west side of Ripley Park in East Topeka. They have been on paid leave since the shooting and will remain on leave until the administrative review is completed.
On the day of the shooting, FBI agents went to the Law Enforcement Center, Cochran said, and added that he didn’t know when the federal investigation would be done.
Jim Cross, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas, said he couldn’t “confirm or deny” a federal investigation.
On Dec. 27, Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay said the two officers were justified in firing their service pistols, and the officers wouldn’t face criminal charges from his office in White’s death.
On Friday, Kagay said Cochran’s hiring is “absolutely the right decision.”
“I know he has a lot of respect from my office, from me personally and within his own agency,” he said. “I think he’s the right choice to lead TPD. I think it speaks volumes that the new city manager, who I think is doing an outstanding job but is not from Topeka, he’s even from our state.
“He did a national search for this candidate and he selected one of our own.”
While Cochran’s hiring received wide-ranging praise from city and law enforcement officials, Topekan Yasmari Rodriguez, one of the vocal critics of White’s shooting and an ardent supporter of his family, said she didn’t think the choice of Cochran was the right one.
“I believe we needed someone innovative and someone who was a minority. They all looked the same,” she said, referring to Cochran, Dotson and Rizzi, who are white. “In order for Topeka to truly move forward, we need to get out of choosing people just because they’re Midwest nice.”
Leaders of a community group that held a public forum to call for transparency in the investigation of White’s death issued the following statement after the announcement of Cochran’s hiring as police chief:
“With the public having been invited to give input just shortly before the final 3 selections were made, we believe that community involvement must be championed by our new police chief and his administration going forward.
“But now that we have a permanent police chief in place, we look forward to establishing dialogue that reflects our community’s need for transparency, accountability, and strong and healthy relations with our local police forces. Our work continues at Topeka &Shawnee Public Library on January 22nd.
We look forward to hearing more from the Topeka community and creating initiatives that engage and empower our citizens to seek justice.”
Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or @AngelaDeines on Twitter.