Public Gets Face Time With Cedar Rapids Police Chief Hopefuls

By Jeff Raasch, Reporter

Shelby Humbles of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, laughs with Cedar Rapids police chief candidate Steve O'Konek during a meet and greet of the seven candidates for chief of the Cedar Rapids Police Department at Cedar Rapids City Hall on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa. O’Konek is a captain in the Cedar Rapids Police Department and previous acting chief of police. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Belinda Yeung

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – A seven-month process to find the next Cedar Rapids police chief could come to an end next week, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said Thursday.

Seven finalists for the job met with dozens of residents, including current and former police officers, during a two-hour open house last night at City Hall. Crime-fighting tactics, leadership principles and, yes, traffic cameras were discussed between bites of cheese and crackers and sips of lemonade.

Pomeranz said he hopes to make an offer by Aug. 31, depending on the results of in-person interviews with six of the candidates today. Capt. Steve O’Konek, the lone internal finalist, interviewed Thursday with Pomeranz.

The candidates also were scheduled to meet with other groups, including neighborhood associations, business leaders and current and former members of law enforcement, who will give input to Pomeranz.

“We want someone that’s tough on crime,” Pomeranz said. “Cedar Rapids, we believe, is a safe community, but we have our challenges, so it’s going to be very important that we have a police chief that’s tough on crime.”

Greg Graham resigned as police chief Jan. 3 to lead the police department in Ocala, Fla., where he served 25 years before coming to Cedar Rapids in 2008. Of the 35 people who applied to succeed him, four were current commanders in Cedar Rapids.

O’Konek, who has been with the department 27 years and was a finalist for the job in 2008, was one of three captains who spent time as the interim chief during the search.

Kirkwood instructor and former police officer Mike Penrod, 60, of Cedar Rapids, said he expects the next chief to be a “principal visionary” for the department.

“It’s kind of a futures orientation, if you will,” said Penrod, who worked with two of the finalists in Columbia, Mo. “We can envision a future that we want, but how are you going to get us there?”

Mari Davis, a local property manager and real estate broker, said she asked candidates about how they plan to work with the community and enforce the law.

“I try very hard to manage my property well, but we do run into issues,” Davis said. “When I call the police, I need to know that if someone really needs to be arrested, we’re going to see them arrested.”

The seven finalists interviewed with the city’s Civil Service Commission via Skype video on Aug. 2. The commission ranked the candidates, and while the ranking will factor in, Pomeranz said it shouldn’t be seen as an advantage to any particular candidate.

“I’m going to recommend to council whoever I believe is the best person on the list,” Pomeranz said. “That could be the seventh person or it could be the first person.”
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