Topeka Police Department’s union president and city leaders say morale among rank-and-file officers would have suffered if Bill Cochran, a 31-year veteran of the department, wasn’t chosen as the capital city’s police chief.
“Morale has definitely been on the upswing since he was named interim chief,” said Jeri Wheeles, president of Topeka’s Fraternal Order of Police. “It really is a breath of fresh air to have someone who isn’t going to come in and make a lot of changes.”
Cochran was named TPD’s interim chief in November. He has been with the department since 1987, working as a homicide detective and a bureau commander.
Wheeles said morale among rank-and-file officers wasn’t necessarily poor before November, but having interim chiefs lead the police force can begin to take a toll.
“Interim chiefs aren’t as quick to make decisions,” she said. “(Cochran) has made decisions and continues to move the department forward. I think that was definitely something the department needed and wanted.”
Wheeles said FOP membership voted in favor of recommending Cochran over the other two finalists, D. Samuel Dotson, of St. Louis, Mo., and Dominic Rizzi Jr., of Yakima, Wash. She said had Cochran not been chosen, support for Dotson or Rizzi wouldn’t have been strong.
“Personally, I think there would have been more turmoil,” she said. “When you are new (to the department), you are looking at things differently and don’t actually know the back story.”
Topeka city councilman Jeff Coen said he heard from officers who said morale within the police department would have suffered if Cochran hadn’t been chosen to lead them.
“They said they felt it would be devastating if we hired from outside — devastating to the morale,” he said. “They said they have the fullest confidence in Chief Cochran.”
In addition to taking the vote on who should lead, Wheeles said, the FOP let Topeka city manager Brent Trout know officers wanted Cochran as their chief.
“The police department personnel made it plainly clear to me,” Trout said, “that their favorite choice for the position was Mr. Cochran. They really felt like he was the right guy for them, that he would take the department forward the best and they really weren’t interested in having an outside chief.”
Coen said aside from the rank and file supporting Cochran as chief, he hoped “the best candidate was chosen.”
“We’ve hired a city manager to vet these individuals and hire the best person,” he said. “We hired him to make the best decision.”
During a news conference introducing him Friday as chief, Cochran acknowledged morale of the police force would have been “directly affected” if Dotson or Rizzi would have been chosen.
“Anytime you bring someone in from the outside there’s uncertainty,” he said. “We’ve had outside chiefs for 10 years, and then we had an interim. Stability, that’s extremely important. That’s the morale factor there. The officers feel some stability and some direction and working together. I think that’s where the majority of the morale comes from.”
Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla said rank and file officers “were concerned” and wanted stability.
Cochran pointed to his depth of knowledge and his connections within Topeka — attributes Wheeles also said were important.
“Bill’s got a lot of community support, not just the department’s,” she said. “Those community connections bring a good mix to the table as far as what we need. I think that will be very beneficial.”
Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or @AngelaDeines on Twitter.