Brownwood Police Chief Virgil Cowin told council members Tuesday he’d never have gotten the job in 1996 if it had been an appointed rather than an elected position.
Nor would he have wanted the job, Cowin said. “I feel like you’ve got to have some freedom to do your job,” Cowin said. “All I have to do, if I’m appointed, to keep my job is have three council members like me.
“If they like me I’m going to keep my job. If I’ve got three that don’t like me I’ll be looking for something else. Sometimes it can interfere with your work.”
Cowin’s comments followed a presentation by Steven McCrane, chairman of a special purpose political action committee, Citizens for a Safer Brownwood.
The group favors changing the city’s charter to appoint rather than elect a police chief. McCrane argued that if the police chief is appointed, there would be a wider selection of applicants since they wouldn’t have to be Brownwood residents, and their “resumes and data” would be checked throughout the state association of police chiefs. The group presented council with a non-binding petition with about 200 signatures.
According to James Fuller, a city police patrolman who represented the Brownwood Municipal Police Association (BMPA) at the council meeting Tuesday that about 75 citizens attended, the association — which consists of most of the department’s officers — endorses going to an appointed chief.
“I believe that a patrolman must prove himself and I believe that a chief of police must do the same,” Fuller said.
In his address to the council, McCrane said there would be increased accountability “over a $3.6 million budget” with an appointed chief.
“… Policies and procedures of the city of Brownwood would be followed, thereby reducing our risks from inappropriate actions of officers and employees,” McCrane said, adding that “ … Under the current elected system, once a police chief is elected, he is in there for four years, regardless of the success, results and morale of the department, and has little to no accountability to the city manager, who is responsible for those things.”
McCrane and other members of his group have stressed that their push for an appointed police chief has nothing to do with Cowin, whose term expires in 2010.
Cowin, 71, said he doesn’t know if it’s about him. He would not say whether he will seek another term if voters decide to keep an elected police chief.
Cowin acknowledged that he is “getting old” but said “I still think, and I still know what’s going on.”
Cowin said people have been killed in wars to preserve the right to vote. “I believe in the right to vote and I believe the majority of the people in Brownwood still like that right to vote,” he said.
“If the people of this city do not want an elected chief so be it, but I don’t believe that’s going to happen. … I’ve had a jillion phone calls since the article came out (on Feb. 20) in the paper the other day,” Cowin said.
In his remarks, Fuller countered that the police department is well equipped, but BMPA “believes that a true leader can propel us forward to meet the challenges of the future.
“ … The future of law enforcement in this community requires a qualified, experienced law enforcement leader,” Fuller said, “not just a veteran police officer, but a highly qualified and credentialed leader.”
Retired businessman Hilton Painter said he favors an elected chief, saying it is the most “efficient and effective way” to choose a chief.
Attorney Gary Price said the May 10 vote will be “his fourth opportunity to vote against” changing the city’s charter to have an appointed chief.
Neither an elected nor an appointed chief is a perfect system, Price said, but “the very best is to elect” a police chief. He said cities with appointed chiefs have problems with turnover in the job. He also said the background checks that come with the appointment process can’t guarantee a bad employee won’t be hired.
Melvin Felch said he is a retired Dallas police officer and Dallas “had a lot of bad appointed chiefs.”
“We’ve got a good system and you don’t fix something that’s not broke,” another citizen, Calvin Lee, said.