October 9, 2003


Photo by Diane Chiddister

Jeff Witte, left, and Carl Bush, finalists for the chief of police’s job, talked with Anna Hogarty after a public forum last Tuesday in the Bryan Community Center.

Finalists for police chief interview at public forum

Lots of community members have an interest in who will be the next Yellow Springs police chief, based on the large turnout at the Sept. 30 “meet and greet” forum — about 50 local residents and Police Department employees filled the Bryan Community Center gym to hear the two preliminary finalists for the job introduce themselves and answer questions.

Facilitated by local consultant Fred Bartenstein, the forum featured opening statements by the two candidates, Carl Bush of Dayton and Jeff Witte of Springdale. Following their introductions, the candidates responded to three questions formulated by the Village Police Chief Search Committee, then to several questions asked by audience members. Only one candidate was present at a time, so that the men did not hear each other’s answers. At the end of the meeting, those who attended filled out evaluation forms for each candidate, which were passed on to Village Manager Rob Hillard, who will make the final decision.

Hillard said he hopes to make a decision by next week.

While several contacted later declined to offer their opinions of the candidates, a few privately preferred Bush, and others, including a source in the police department who spoke for several department employees, stated that neither candidate seemed a good fit for Yellow Springs.

Asked the response he’s received since the forum, Village Manager Rob Hillard this week said, “It’s been mixed,” because the candidates bring to the job different strengths. Hillard stated that he could not yet comment on the front runner for the job, or if one of the two finalists will be chosen.

“We’re still going through the process,” he said. “Part of the decision could be that neither candidate will be chosen. It’s too early to tell.”

Those who attended the forum did agree that they appreciated meeting the finalists.

“I thought it was a worthwhile process,” Jonas Bender said of the meeting. “I hope we’ll come out with a police chief who’s effective for us.”

In many areas, the candidates shared similar backgrounds and philosophies. Both introduced themselves as longtime police officers who have fulfilled a wide variety of police responsibilities, which they believe particularly suits them for the position of chief in a small community. Bush, a 26-year police veteran, has spent most of his career with the Trotwood Police Department. Witte has spent 21 years in police work, including the last 17 in the Cincinnati suburb of Springdale.

In response to a question from the search committee, both men said that they believe they would work well in a diverse community.

“We have to deal with everybody every day. That’s our job,” Bush said. He noted that he has been involved in successful efforts to increase the number of African-American police officers in Trotwood, which, he said, is 63 percent African-American.

Witte said that his experiences working in the integrated school districts of Springdale and Princeton have helped to prepare him for work in a diverse community. “I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of viewpoints both personally and professionally,” he said.

Both men came out strongly against racial profiling.

“I don’t approve of it and as chief I would not condone it,” Witte said. “It violates people’s constitutional rights and if nothing else it’s inefficient, because police need to deal with real problems and solutions.”

“Racial profiling is wrong,” Bush said. “It’s unconstitutional and unacceptable.” To prevent profiling, Bush said, police officers need education. “We have to go back to the basics, to teach about the Constitution,” he said.

In response to an audience question, both men expressed discomfort with the Patriot Act, with Bush expressing especially strong feelings.

“I think we’re being paranoid,” he said. “Let’s look back in history to remember we don’t want to repeat what we did to the Japanese. We have to remember the Constitution is there for a reason, and the police are governed by what’s constitutional. At some point, the police chief has to say, ‘I don’t believe this is right and we’re not going to do this.’ ”

Witte said he had “mixed feelings” about the Patriot Act. “I have to take a hard look at it. I do have to confess to not being up to speed on it,” he said.

Asked to identify his greatest strength, Witte replied, “My sense of organization and attention to detail. I’m a very organized person.”

In response to the same question, Bush said, “I’m good at getting things done. If you give something to me, I’ll get it done.”

In response to a search committee question about how police should best deal with teenagers, both candidates emphasized the importance of mutual respect between teens and police.

“We need to work together with youth to find what the problems are,” Bush said. “Young people need to know that we’re not the enemy but we still have a job to do.”

In Trotwood, Bush said, police have been trained to respond to school shootings. “The hardest thing to deal with is that someone might have to shoot a 12- or 13-year-old,” if that child threatened the lives of others, he said.

Witte also emphasized mutual respect between teens and police. “It’s the responsibility of the police officer to make sure to maintain civility,” he said.

While Bush said he began the bike patrol in Trotwood, Witte stated that he had no experience with bike patrols, since Springdale is a car-oriented community.

Asked to describe a professional situation in which the old answers didn’t work and new ones had to be found, Witte discussed a situation in Springdale when the traditional method of policing — “having police cars driving around hoping they’re catching the bad guys” — became more a problem than a solution. Instead, the department surveyed neighborhoods to assess how police could better help their communities.

“We have used the results to better serve the needs of the neighborhoods,” he said.

To the same question, Bush described the Trotwood department’s problem staffing its communications center, which was finally solved by contracting out the work to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department. The solution offered considerable financial savings, he said, but also resulted in a loss of personal contact between local police and the community.

Both Bush and Witte have had little previous connection with Yellow Springs, and, when asked how they would get to know the community, both stressed that they would get out to meet people.

Bush, especially, emphasized his desire for accessibility. “You will see me in the community, in Council meetings, at functions, you will see me involved in some organizations,” he said. “A chief has to get out and know the community, find out who the leaders are, then go into the coffee shops and find out who the real leaders are. I’m a believer in an open door policy. In a community of this size you should be able to call the chief and talk to the chief.”

Witte said that he had been getting to know Yellow Springs over the Internet, by reading Council minutes and articles from the News. “My wife and I have spent time in the shops,” he said. “First, I’d like to walk the town, stop in some shops and find out where to eat lunch.”

When asked whether they thought that a community’s police officers should live in town, both men expressed mixed feelings, indicating that although accessibility is important, the high cost of housing in Yellow Springs may make living here difficult. Asked if the police chief should live more then 25 miles away, Bush, a divorced father of three who currently lives in Clayton, said that he believes a police chief should live no more than 15 or 20 minutes away, in case of emergencies. Witte stated that he believes 25 minutes away should be the outside limit. Witte, who is married with no children, had said that he preferred to remain living in Springdale. At the forum, however, he said that, if the police chief is required to live in Yellow Springs, he is ready to do so.

—Diane Chiddister