Editorial: Police supervision an internal matter

Cochran must use experience to improve relations

Bill Cochran was named Topeka’s new police chief Friday. He had served in an interim role since Nov. 4. (Thad Allton/The Capital-Journal)

The move to hire a Topeka police chief from within the department was debated vigorously.

 

For good reason.

The Sept. 28 shooting death of Dominique White by two Topeka officers in East Topeka rocked whatever faith the community had in the department.

What transpired was a litany of evasive techniques after the White family’s attorney said the city initially agreed to let the shooting victim’s parent view the body camera footage, but later decided against doing so while citing Kansas law, which only required city officials to show the footage to the court-appointed executor of White’s estate.

Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay concluded the officers were justified in the shooting and determined they will not face criminal charges, though the possibility exists for a lawsuit to be filed against the city over White’s death.

This is the backdrop from which a 31-year veteran of the Topeka police department, Bill Cochran, accepted the promotion to police chief on Friday. He was selected over two external candidates, D. Samuel Dotson, of St. Louis, and Dominic Rizzi Jr., of Yakima, Wash.

The decision to hire Cochran was apparently based, in part, on the desire to expedite the transition. Cochran was already named to the position of interim chief in November after working at the TPD since 1987. He has worked in many capacities, including homicide detective and bureau commander. Cochran becomes the third Topeka police chief in 15 months.

All of that transition creates a need for the department to regain steady oversight, which could be another positive derived from an internal hire. Cochran has seen firsthand the administrative upheaval, and can also tap into a lengthy background regarding department policy.

A knowledgeable insider could boost morale in the department, if officers are encouraged that one of their own was deemed capable of leading the force.

Morale within the community is another matter. Not only is Topeka ailing from how the death of Dominique White was handled, violent crime within the city continues to rise. Topeka sustained a record number of murders (30) in 2017, and 10 cases remain open.

Calls for transparency prompted Cochran to act swiftly when he made the department’s policies available online 19 days after being hired as interim chief. That initial response to feedback was a prudent first step in restoring community relations and certainly did not harm Cochran’s desire to be named the full-time chief.

Building the citizens’ trust in their police force must evolve over time. Gaining a grasp of that citizenry is paramount.

“Behavioral health within our community is very important,’’ Cochran said when he was announced as interim chief. “What makes that even more important is every issue that we deal with, from the smallest crime to the largest crime or the most dangerous crime. It’s all connected to behavioral health issues.’’

Those issues now fall at the desk of someone who has enforced the laws of the community for 31 years. Experience must guide Cochran in the complexities of policing Topeka, both with issues the police department faces among its own personnel and among the citizens it protects.

Some sentiment existed to look outside the city for a new police chief offering a fresh approach and perspective.

Experience policing the streets of this city is what Cochran must draw from to take steps he deems necessary to ensure the safety and trust of a community he has long called home.

Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.

 

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