Public to help appoint Paso Robles police chief

Six members of the public will be appointed by the Paso Robles City Council to help interview a pool of potential police chief candidates in the coming months.

The council plans to announce the appointees at its Oct. 2 meeting.

The interview panels are one of several steps in the city’s process to find a new chief to lead the Paso Robles Police Department after the controversial departure of its former chief earlier this year.

Sixty-one applications were received for the city’s top police position. Candidate names have not been disclosed but officials say some are from San Luis Obispo County while others mostly come from throughout the state, including Los Angeles.

Previous chief Lisa Solomon resigned after a former officer accused her of sexual harassment and another claimed officers were required to meet illegal ticket quotas. An internal investigation into the sexual harassment claim was suspended when Solomon’s resignation went into effect. Both issues are now wrapped up in lawsuits filed against the city.

The council Tuesday opted to have each councilman appoint one member of the public, with the mayor to appoint two people. The appointees will serve on the three interview panels.

Including the public on the panels was spurred by the community’s desire to stay involved in the hiring process of a new chief. The council had the option to open panel recruitment to the general public, but instead chose to appoint individuals.

Councilman Fred Strong said it’s important the appointees are community stakeholders with experience in knowing what to ask when hiring law enforcement.

But before that decision came, some people urged the council to seek nominations from the general public because concern over police cutbacks and overall leadership lingers in town.

Paso Robles resident Daniele Fresca called such a process “a due diligence that should be met for the new chief.”

But Paso Robles resident Kathy Barnett called a mass-nomination “overkill,” adding that she believes the council is “running scared” after Solomon’s departure.

Councilman John Hamon said Wednesday the public has already engaged in one of the most important steps in the hiring process by attending citizen forums earlier this year. The two forums asked the public what qualities they want in the next chief. They included someone who can tackle gang issues and has experience working with Hispanic populations. Those characteristics are being used to screen candidates down to a pool of less than a dozen applicants in four to six weeks.

On Wednesday, council members said they’ve been in touch with the people they hope to appoint. Many were waiting to hear back from their selected person. The potential appointees’ names weren’t disclosed; although Hamon mentioned interest in pursuing former chief Dennis Cassidy as his choice.

Once the three panels are formed, they will be made up of two public members, a police chief or equivalent, a Police Officers’ Association representative and a top management representative from the city. Each panel will be tasked with interviewing each of the six to eight candidates in what City Manager Jim App estimated would be a 10-hour day. The session, not yet on the calendar, is slated to cost the city about $200 in lunches and refreshments.

The goal is to narrow the interview pool down to the community’s top two choices by the day’s end.

When the panel identifies the top two candidates, those applicants will take part in another round of interviews and checks in the weeks to follow. The top pick will then receive a comprehensive background check and testing. The city hopes to have a new chief by the first of the year.