City council holds public interview with second top candidate for Moab police chief vacancy

The Moab City Council considered another top candidate for chief of police, conducting a public interview with former Farmington, New Mexico, deputy police chief Keith McPheeters. At the April 25 meeting, McPheeters spoke about his 24 years in law enforcement and said his career experience and emphasis on professionalism will greatly serve the Moab community.

“This is an opportunity for me to have a positive impact on the community and a positive impact on the lives of the men and women that work for the Moab City Police Department,” McPheeters said.

During his public interview with the city council, McPheeters said he is dedicated to the “ideals of professionalism,” adding that he sees opportunities for accreditation in the department “in ways they had not seen before.”

“I think there’s a great atmosphere right now of looking forward to the future and seeing what can we accomplish, how can we move that department forward, how we can move our community forward,” McPheeters said. “I think there’s a great excitement. I’m a firm believer in the power of accreditation. It goes a long way to establish a sense of pride in the level of professionalism in the department and care for the community.”

The Moab City Police Department has faced several issues in the past year, primarily related to allegations of misconduct involving personnel.

Five IA (internal affairs) investigations were launched between April and September 2016, setting a record for the department. In the past 10 years, just four others have occurred — one in 2015, two in 2010 and one in 2007 — according to documents provided to The Times-Independent by the police department.

Those probes have concluded and in the aftermath three IA subjects tendered their resignations and a fourth was recently reinstated on the force, currently on limited-duty assignment. State Peace Officer Standards and Training investigations on all four officers are still ongoing, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.

“I don’t think that there’s any surprise in the room that it’s been a couple of rough years for [the police department],” McPheeters told the council. “I think that they’re yearning to put that behind them.”

In addition to embracing industry best practices at the Moab City Police Department, McPheeters suggested taking a more aggressive approach to “affirmative marketing techniques” through social media, which he says will help restore “dignity” to the department.

“I think first and foremost, [we need] to spend the time that is necessary to restore the respect the community has for them, to develop that very large amount of trust for the police department,” McPheeters said. “ … It’s got wonderful men and women that work there; they’re doing a great job.”

As for the police officers themselves, council member Kalen Jones asked McPheeters to name the qualities he believes are most important in his staff and how he will attract those characteristics to the Moab Police Department.

McPheeters said “hard skills” like handling firearms can be taught to any officer, but other skills, such as understanding how best to respond to a moral or ethical dilemma, are more difficult to train — and most sought after in a potential candidate.

“I can teach anybody how to shoot a gun. What I can’t teach is how to respond to an ethical or moral dilemma,” McPheeters said. “That is something we need to be concentrated on.”

He suggested fostering communication skills in training, and setting a standard of values that officers will remember when they respond to a call.

“So much of this job is listening and speaking to people in a compassionate, and understanding way,” McPheeters said. “A veteran officer, with several years of experience, you’ll find that they don’t get in nearly as many foot pursuits and wrestling matches. The reason is because they’re better at … adjusting their demeanor, adjusting their tone, adjusting their stance, and setting the tone where those things don’t occur. We need to do a better job of improving those communication skills as we select [officers] and as we train them.”

Council member Tawny Knutson-Boyd asked McPheeters how he would instruct his officers to handle a hostile person that was “most likely suffering” from a mental illness.

McPheeters acknowledged that traditionally, police training is “very proficient” in dealing with combative people, but less proficient in understanding the reasons behind that person’s combativeness.

“We ask the officers to slow down, we ask them to remember … that original tenant ‘we’re here to help’ … We can work with them, we can use our skill set to not make the situation worse,” McPheeters said. “Their family called us to help get medical attention, not to get stitches or surgery or, heaven forbid, buried. The trick to it is making it part of the values of our department — that we are there to help people.”

The city received 46 applicants for the police chief position and several finalists were interviewed by multiple panels that included city officials and community members. The police chief position has been vacant since Sept. 21, after former chief Mike Navarre tendered his resignation a day before. Moab Police Lt. Steve Ross has served as interim chief since Navarre’s departure.

The city council publicly interviewed one other candidate, Ken Carpenter, for the police chief position last week, as reported in the April 20 edition of The Times-Independent.

“We’ll have one more round of due diligence and then we will chart our course of action,” said Moab City Manager David Everitt. He said it has not been determined at this time whether the council will interview any other candidates.

Everitt said the council plans “to do a little more following up” on both Carpenter and McPheeters, “double, triple” checking their references.

“There’s some sensitivity around ensuring that we cross every ‘T’ and dot every ‘I,’ turn over every rock, find any skeletons in the closet for every high profile position in the city right now,” Everitt said. “And I think we have.”

The decision of who will become Moab’s new police chief will be made by the city council, and the chief will be officially appointed by Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison.

ByBy Molly Marcello

The Times-Independent