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Should Police Chief Be Elected or Appointed?

By Staff | Aug 21, 2019

It’s a question many are asking: should the position for police chief be appointed or remain elected. Many say the public needs to have a choice. An overwhelming majority of City’s small and large all over this country appoint their police chief. In West Virginia alone there are only a small handful of communities that hold elections for Chief of Police.

Paden City recently changed its city charter to allow for the appointment of the city clerk, a position that had been an elected position for many years. The Police Chief on the other hand has always been an appointed position, as has the street superintendent. The election of a city clerk always seemed to work well until accountability issues arose in the clerk’s office. leaving Paden City a mess to clean up.

Under consideration by New Martinsville City council is a change which would remove three elected positions to appointed jobs. One would include the chief of police, the other two would be the street commissioner and the city clerk.

We believe the current chief of police Tim Cecil is an asset to the community and whether he’s elected or appointed you will not find a better or more dedicated individual. His record speaks for itself. He has been elected by the people of New Martinsville five times. Although city elections have a small percentage of citizens voting, its clear chief Cecil has been the people’s choice.

On the other hand, the city clerk and the street commissioner are positions that require extensive knowledge to complete their daily tasks and could put the city in a bad position if an unqualified individual were to win an election based on popularity. We believe these two positions to be critical to the successful daily operation of the community and should require a change in the charter to remove them from the election process.

The debate over the police chief is warranted. The voters pick, or the mayor appoints? Appointment is a system most cities follow. They do it for several reasons: One is because elected chiefs take the firing authority away from council and the mayor. Another is the risk of electing someone without adequate law enforcement experience. While another is accountability.

Neither system is perfect, while the appointed system gives the mayor and council complete control, the elected system includes a different type of politics. However, you can’t fool the voting public. They’re wise people and usually know their candidates.

The New Martinsville chief of police position has been the center of discussion for some time now and discussion at a recent special council meeting drew an unusual large crowd. Most seemed to support chief Tim Cecil. City council will no doubt take up the issue again in the near future and could make a decision to amend the charter to make current elected positions, including chief of police, appointed positions.

We believe the measure should be put on a ballot to let the people decide. With separate votes for each position considered. Well published public hearings should be held prior to any decisions and all pros and cons should be considered.