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Columbia police captain interested in chief job

Monday, October 20, 2008 | 9:10 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia Police Capt. Zim Schwartze said she is "very interested" in applying to be the city's next police chief. Were she to be chosen, she would be Columbia's first female police chief.

The position was left vacant when former Chief Randy Boehm retired in July after 31 years with the department.

Of the seven current commanding officers in the department, only two meet the qualifications for chief: Schwartze and acting interim chief, Capt. Tom Dresner.

But City Manager Bill Watkins said the person who took over as interim chief would not be eligible for the permanent position. That leaves in the potential hiring pool Schwartze and any candidates from outside the department identified by a consultancy hired by the city to conduct a search.

Dresner said that as the most senior captain with 10 years of service, he was a natural choice to step up to the interim chief job.

"I'm the old man on the block," he said. "Being chief had never been my career goal, but the job's kind of grown on me."

Once the new chief is named, Dresner said he will most likely return to his old job as administrative support commander.

Schwartze, like Dresner, said she did not always envision herself as a police chief.

"My goal when I first started here was to reach captain. I never thought we'd see a female chief in Columbia," Schwartze said. "But the city is very different now. I think they are ready."

Columbia's first female police officer was Susan (Wooderson) Stanley, who was hired in 1974.

Schwartze has been working for the department for 17 years. She started out as a community service aid in 1991 and was hired as a police officer in 1992. Schwartze was promoted to sergeant in 1997. In 2003, she became Columbia's first female captain. She is now the department's community operations commander.

Twice she attended the FBI National Academy, an invitation-only upper-level police training program, where she took classes on many subjects including gangs, juvenile violence and conflict resolution. Schwartze also conducts police training in research analysis and resource allocation across the country.

"I never turn down any training," she said. "It's all an opportunity to learn."

Schwartze has an undergraduate degree in engineering and a master's degree in public administration, both from MU. She said she is also very interested in starting a doctoral program in the near future.

Schwartze said she thinks her lengthy experience in Columbia would help her as a police chief.

"I feel the next chief needs to possess an understanding of the community," she said. "They need to relate and communicate with all these different factions out there."

Dresner agreed that the most important quality in a new chief will be good communication skills.

"I don't think historically we've done a very good job giving (the public) adequate information," he said. "It becomes a problem when the public's police department doesn't talk to them."

Dresner said he has pushed a number of ideas to address this: revamping the officer promotion process, putting daily police reports online and increasing transparency in controversial issues such as Taser use.

This year, as the Citizen Police Oversight Committee has looked into how Columbia police handle complaints, among other issues, questions have been raised about the culture of the police department, especially with regard to racial discrimination. Schwartze said she thinks the problem can be solved from the inside, with the right public discussion.

"A lot of what we're dealing with is public perception," she said. "I know, I have communicated with different groups in the community ... If I wasn't proud of the work (our officers) do and how they treat people, I wouldn't want to be the chief."

Schwartze said that she would be willing to work with any review board that was put in place as long as it was cost effective. But, she said, she thought that officers already hold themselves to a higher standard than an external board would.

"The majority of the citizens in Columbia know we are acting professionally. We just want everyone to know that," she said.

Schwartze said there are "pros and cons" to both hiring from within and from outside the department.

"It's great to have experience in a big city," she said, "but I firmly believe that experience in this city is important. I can see where we came from ... and where we need to go."

The city and Slavin Management Consultants are currently accepting applications for the position. City Human Resources Director Margrace Buckler said a list of applicants who will come to Columbia for interviews will be available before Thanksgiving. The goal is to have a new chief by Jan. 1, 2009.


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