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Three finalists vie for Durham police chief position

City Manager Marcia Connor has a difficult call to make.

From a pool of nearly 50 initial applicants, three men whom she calls highly qualified now await her decision on which of them will become the next chief of the Durham Police Department. The three candidates have expressed similar strategies and ideas for improving the police throughout the process, but would bring different styles and backgrounds to the job.

"Many law enforcement agencies work together or share information,"

said City Councilor John Best. "This makes for pretty uniform strategies-the differences are mostly in personal characteristics and ability to stand by their actions."

Steven Chalmers, interim Durham Police chief; William Carcara, chief of the Jefferson County (Ky.) Police Department; and Gregory Watkins, recently-retired deputy chief in Kansas City, Mo., were chosen from five candidates invited to meet with City Council members as well as a committee of representatives in law enforcement and businesses, community groups and educators.

"I feel each finalist has a unique combination of leadership skills, experience and strengths in various areas that leads me to consider each of them further," Connor said. Using visits to home jurisdictions, interviews, committee advice and public response, she intends to make her decision by the end of the month.

Theresa Chambers left the position in early February after four years to become the first female chief of the U.S. Park Police for the National Park Service. The Durham chief oversees 578 employees<476 sworn and 102 civilian<and currently administers an operating budget of about $34 million.

In a public forum July 15, Durham residents said they are looking for a police chief who will take on drugs, gangs, youth violence and deviant officers.

Chalmers, whom several City Council members publicly support, was among the top officers on Chambers' staff and Chambers herself chose him as an interim replacement. During her time in the position, the reported crime rate in Durham dropped nearly 20 percent, although crime remains a top concern among the public. Durham has averaged around 30 murders each of the last several years.

Best, a Chalmers' supporter, noted the interim chief's role in the positive changes in recent years and believes he will continue the work Chambers began. He also stresses that choosing a local candidate sends a strong message to all levels of the Durham police force.

"When [lower-ranking officers] see someone like Chalmers, who has been with the department for 27 years and risen through the ranks, it shows them hard work does pay off and motivates them to follow in his footsteps," Best said.

The committee that has been interviewing the finalists, however, recommended hiring Watkins. Watkins stresses his experience in a larger city, especially his success in integrating the police department and the community. He said at the forum that he would retain community relations as a top priority in Durham.

"I've been accused of being naïve because I believe good things can happen," said Watkins. "However, if we work together to create a holistic approach to community policing, we can not go wrong."

Watkins was with the Kansas City Police Department for almost 30 years before he retired, managing 925 personnel and overseeing a $145 million budget in his final position as deputy chief.

When questioned at the forum about how he would deal with an officer using excessive force, Watkins did not hesitate to respond forcefully. "Excessive force is not and will not be tolerated under me," he said. "It tarnishes all our badges and sets us back years."

Chalmers and Carcara agreed, as many residents expressed concern about police abuse nationwide. Laying out a philosophy of "legal, ethical and moral" policing, Carcara said he has put officers under his watch in jail for abusing their power.

Under Durham's tightening budget, however, many citizens at the forum were concerned with the feasibility of some proposals.

In Jefferson County, about $10 million of Carcara's $52 million budget came from grants. Both he and Watkins agreed that secondary money is incredibly important to the strength of any department with budget restraints.

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