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Cleveland's police chief finalists answer public concerns

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The three finalists hoping to be Cleveland's next police chief were in the hot seat during the final round of questioning.

The candidates are Interim Cleveland Police Chief Mark Gibson, Red Bank Police Chief Tim Christol and Knoxville-based Tennessee Highway Patrol Captain Jessie Brooks. 

The interviews were broadcast live to the public, and many of the questions came directly from community concerns.  It's the first time people in the community got the chance to hear from the police chief finalists themselves.

The last police chief was caught lying, cheating and violating the department's policy. Perhaps the most important question asked of all three candidates today, will their actions ever embarrass the department?

"I can tell you that I feel very very strongly that there is nothing in my personal history or professional history that would be an embarrassment," said Red Bank Police Chief Tim Christol.

It's the question the entire community wants answered: Will the next Cleveland police chief stay out of trouble and stay with the department?

"In your common sense in your mind if you know something's wrong you shouldn't do it," THP Capt. Jessie Brooks said, "And I think that's the attitude I'll bring if I come to this police department."    

All three finalists promised the future will be brighter.

"If I feel like I would hurt this department in any way, I'd be the first one to step out of the way," said Interim Chief Mark Gibson.

All three agree -- the next Cleveland police chief will have to repair a damaged relationship with the public.

"I think we've got to win back trust, and if I get selected for this job I think I need to win back trust and I need to be part of this community," said Brooks.

The panel wanted to know each candidate's idea on how to make the relationship better.

"We need to be more proactive," said Tim Christol, "We need to roll the window down in our police car and talk to people as we go through the neighborhoods."

Christol says face-to-face interaction with people on the streets is a good place to start.
Interim Chief Mark Gibson agrees. He said the responsibility is on every officer to make a good impression on the public.

"The biggest thing is being out in the community and interacting," Gibson said, "And that goes all the way down from our patrol officers or school resource officers all the way up to the Chief of Police."

All three candidates have promised to re-locate if needed and be a part of the Cleveland community.

"If I'm going to live in this community I definitely want this to be a good community to live in," Brooks said.

Christol believes regardless of the negative headlines, most of Cleveland's officers are dedicated and want to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

"And give them some confidence back," he said, "Let them do their jobs. These officers just want that very basic thing."

One of the department's top priorities is to stay out of the public eye for all the wrong reasons. It hasn't been easy in the past but Gibson says creating stricter disciplinary policies should hold officers to a higher standard.

"We really don't have much option other than sending somebody home with pay, and that's the things that need to change," Gibson said.

Gibson says the department is now working with the city to create stricter policies for any misconduct.

"The problem is that when we do have individuals that want to push the lines and not follow the rules, there's so many loopholes for them to get out of it, and that's one thing that's going to change," Gibson said.

And while dealing with the problems within the department is a priority, Christol says the officers who are following the rules need to be recognized too -- they need a leader. 

"They will die for you," Christol said, "They want somebody that is going to have their back and have some firm footing and know what the vision is."

In the end, City Manager Janice Casteel will make the final decision. She hopes to have a new police chief named by October 1st.

A statement was sent out by the City Manager's Office in response to the interviews:

"The Police Chief Interview Panel interviewed the three candidates this morning and then met with City Manager Janice Casteel afterwards.  Consensus of the committee was that we have three highly qualified individuals for the position of Police Chief.  

The committee discussed the candidates' responses to the individual interview questions and weighed the pros and cons of all three individuals, and did not make a recommendation.  The City Manager will meet with the candidates individually on Thursday and reconvene with the committee on Friday."

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