Nearly two months into the job, Colorado Springs police Chief Richard Myers aims to create a more responsive and flexible force.
He replaces Luis Velez, who retired in September, and takes on a department that dealt with a spike in violent crime last year, including killings of two officers.
Myers began his career in 1977 as an officer in the Detroit area, where he grew up. He worked for several departments before landing his first chief job in 1984. He is 53, has three daughters two in college, one in high school and is married. He comes to Colorado Springs from the Appleton, Wis., police department, where he was chief.
Indy: What are your immediate goals for the department?
Myers: Well, I have a personal goal of learning as much as I can about the community and the department beyond that, focusing on making sure that we have a very effective sense of organizational communication ... that's a high objective.
Indy: So far, what's going well?
Myers: I think the fact that I've been able to, in five or six weeks, meet with about 700 of our 1,000 employees and just have some two-way discussion with them ranging as small as a half-dozen folks to maybe up to 150 at a time, and everything in between, and go to their work site where they are and talk with them about what their concerns and ideas are, that's been helpful. I'm sure I've been asked questions and gave answers that people didn't like the answers, but I think everybody has enjoyed the fact that I'm coming out and that we're having some dialogue.
Indy: What needs work so far, in your opinion?
Myers: One of the reasons I'm putting such a heavy emphasis on organizational communication is I heard pretty early on that ... was a concern of people. It's a concern for any organization that's as large as this. It's just natural that as an organization grows and gets larger and has increasing specialization, those silos can pop up. So breaking down some of the walls of the silo that's a natural thing to have to do, not just at a police department.
Indy: In the first half of 2006, violent crime appeared to skyrocket here. There were more than 1,000 [violent crimes, such as murder], compared with about 800 in the first half of 2005. What are you doing to turn this trend around?
Myers: One of the things, and we're not prepared to roll it out in detail yet because we don't have the details to give you ... it's a new initiative that's going to redeploy a significant number of officers away from their currently assigned duties to create the ability to intensely focus and target resources toward root causes of violent crime gangs, guns and drugs and all the things that come along with that.
Indy: Colorado Springs police now take, on average, 11 minutes and 45 seconds to respond to a crime. That's 3 minutes and 45 seconds longer than the department's self-imposed goal. Why are response times rising, and what are you planning to do to lower them?
Myers: The really simple answer is we don't have enough people to send to all the calls in a timely manner. We're covering 200 square miles and almost 400,000 people and there isn't another comparable city in the country... That's the simple answer. I don't think it's the right answer, though.
No. 1, is response time always the best way to measure the effectiveness of a police department? Now, when your back door is kicked in and somebody is about to come inside your house, the most important thing at that moment is, "How long did it take for the police to get there?' If someone is holding a gun to someone and robbing them, response time is a relevant issue.
If you come home from work and you find your home has been burglarized or your garage door has been broken open and your kid's bike taken, does it matter if we get there in two minutes or two hours? So we need to do a better job of communicating to the public. When is response time a relevant measure of our effectiveness and when is solving problems a relevant measure of our effectiveness?
Indy: What about solving cold murder cases?
Myers: I'm pretty early in my curve here, and I can't speak intelligently about the current state of affairs on cold cases here. I think most police departments that are the size of the Springs' are dedicated to never giving up on a case, including cold cases. ... I couldn't tell you today if we've got one or 50.
Indy: Last year, we learned that the evidence room lost thousands of articles of evidence. Have you tallied the damage and, if so, what can you share? Also, what's being done to prevent this from happening again?
Myers: I think all that information has been provided. I think the department has done a pretty good job of going to [City Council] at open meetings and done pretty detailed presentations on what were the contributing factors, what are we doing about it. I can tell you this: No. 1, the system improvements are very impressive and between the changes in procedures and specifically with some of the technological changes, we're going to have a benchmark system here for evidence. Secondly, on the people side of the equation, I believe the department has taken care of the accountability issues.
This wasn't a criminal matter, it was a mistake, and people are held accountable for their actions and I think that is ongoing. Frankly, this to me is an old news story. It's a problem that arose, the department dealt with it, they learned from it and they've moved on.
Indy: This is a rumor, so take it for what it is worth. Is it true that you've imposed a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to officer discipline?
Myers: First of all, I get an internal affairs briefing twice a month, and there, a review of cases. By the time they are brought to me, the discipline has been imposed, if there is discipline. It's been a pretty small number. You won't hear the phrase "zero-tolerance' out of my mouth about anything because that reflects arbitrariness and I do not believe in arbitrariness.
Indy: So that's a bad rumor.
Myers: It's a bad rumor. I think there are some core basic things that are principles that you simply say we will not allow that to exist in our organization. Those are already reflected in the organizational core values that are published. ... This is the kind of rumor I've heard everybody's got to start wearing hats again.
Indy: Do you agree with that? Should everybody start wearing hats again?
Myers: [Laughs] No. Honestly, when I hear some of this stuff, it's so ridiculous because it's so out there.