August 28, 2003



Challenges for next police chief

It continues to be an erratic year for the Yellow Springs Police Department. The Village set the tone for 2003 when one officer was fired just two days into the new year. This action led to a suit, which is still pending. Then the Village announced, without warning, that Police Chief Jim Miller had been placed on paid administrative leave and would be retiring in September. Finally, another officer was placed on leave this summer, and now it’s been recommended that he be sacked.

The latest news, that officer Josh Cernetic may lose his job, highlights one of the biggest challenges facing the police force: working with juveniles and young adults. This is not to say that the Police Department is doing a bad job with this age group. But as the report summarizing an investigation into officer Cernetic’s recent altercation with a local teen noted, officer Cernetic, who had received good performance reviews in the past, did not always work well with young people. Officer Cernetic is now facing a pre-disciplinary hearing, the results of which will likely influence whether he remains on the force.

It takes a certain kind of cop to get along with youth. Training to work with youth, as well as with people of different races and backgrounds, can only go so far. As John Grote, the interim police chief, said in an interview this week, a police officer has to understand that some juveniles and young adults often question people of authority. “You have to understand that’s how it is,” he said. Most members of the police force appear to do that fairly well.

In Yellow Springs, young people are encouraged to be independent, to think for themselves, to speak their minds. Given the activist history of many older generations here, it’s not surprising that Yellow Springs youth may question authority. That said, young people should respect those in positions of authority.

Last month, the committee helping Village Manager Rob Hillard search for a new chief released a list of possible characteristics the ideal chief should possess. The list suggested that the chief should be sensitive toward people of different races, gender and age, be committed to fostering “a productive partnership with the local schools” and understand issues involving youth.

Interviews for candidates vying for the position of Yellow Springs police chief will be held in mid-September, meaning a new chief could be on board by October. As Mr. Hillard and the search committee sift through resumes, and eventually hold interviews, they should strongly focus on those candidates who show a keen ability to work with a diverse community, and are committed to achieving the goals and qualities contained in the committee’s list.

The head of any department or company sets a certain tone for the rest of his or her organization. Whoever takes over as the head of the Police Department will be challenged to work with a hard-working, shorthanded staff that has been through a difficult year. It’s important that the Village select someone who can work through adversity, and reassure the community that the department values Yellow Springs’ diversity.

—Robert Mihalek