Say what you will about those jokers at City Hall, but I think they hired the right police chief.
I’ve been impressed with the way Chief Greg Graham has handled himself during the last few tumultuous weeks. I think he’s made the right moves and said the right things. I think he may end up having a big impact on this city.
Yeah, yeah, I know he’s only been here 10 months. And after a long, hot summer, I might change my mind. If I lived in Wellington Heights or Mound View and had been ticketed for jaywalking, my view might be different.
Could be this Floridian, with that pecan-pie drawl, is selling us the Everglades.
But for now, I’m buying.
I’ve dealt with a lot of police chiefs in a lot of different places over the years. Some were defensive with a capital D for door slam. Some were dismissive of the notion that they ever had to explain what they’re up to. Some portrayed any question about their tactics as anti-cop. In the worst cases, you get an us-versus-them trifecta behind a badge.
So far, Graham has been none of those things. I’ve watched him in recent days handle lots of tough questions about his department’s tactics, its racial attitudes, its deficiencies and its future. For the most part, he’s been unflinching and honest. I’ve seen presidential candidates with less ability to think on their feet.
In the wake of the tragic, maddening beating of Officer Tim Davis, Graham managed to rally his department, implement a clear plan reflecting the city’s determination to crack down on criminal activity and make a convincing case that he cares about those neighborhoods and the people who live there. It was no small accomplishment.
But this is no touchy-feely cop. He’s demanding that absentee rental owners clean up their properties or lose them. He’s charging bars for police calls that distract his officers and eat up his already tight budget.
Graham is opening a police substation on First Avenue near Hy-Vee to project police authority in the neighborhood and to build the confidence of residents and business owners that change is coming.
He’s delivered a much-needed message to parents that they have primary responsibility for keeping their kids off the streets and out of trouble. He also put responsibility for change in the hands of residents, who must report criminal activity if they want safer neighborhoods.
“To me, this is not a race issue. This is a character issue,” Graham said at a forum Tuesday.
But he doesn’t pretend that racial issues don’t exist. Graham denies that his department engages in racial profiling, while acknowledging that blacks made up more than half of the arrests his officers recorded during the crackdown. He also acknowledges those arrests are being carried out by a department with too few black officers.
And to his credit, while so many around here want to blame everything on some sort of Chicago invasion, Graham doesn’t buy it. He knows playing a blame game doesn’t help build the kind of community involvement needed to solve problems.
So Graham is on the right track. Now we’ll see if he can get results.