The police department is running smoothly despite the sudden dismissal last week of the former chief, police officials said Friday afternoon.
“Business is as usual,” Interim Police Chief Steve Schulz said. “These guys are still coming to work. They’re still doing their jobs.”
Schulz said that the change isn’t affecting the department’s ability to keep the community safe.
Interim City Manager Liz Becher appointed Schulz as interim chief Friday after the dismissal of former police chief Jim Wetzel. Schulz is a captain and holds the second-highest sworn position in the department after the chief.
Schulz said it would be premature for him to make large changes at the department because the new chief could decide to take the department in a different direction. He said he and the command staff are working to decide what smaller changes could be made to help solve some of the issues at the department, like those brought up by employees in a survey that became public at the beginning of April.
“I’m a placeholder, but together as an agency we will see what we can do,” Schulz said.
Schulz said that everybody in the command staff — which is composed of the captain, lieutenants and high-ranking civilian employees — has stepped up in the absence of a permanent chief to take care of the immediate issues like the department’s budget and preparations for the eclipse.
Rollout of the department’s strategic plan will be placed on hold until the command staff can meet to further discuss it, Schulz said. A draft of the plan, which requests a new police station as well as suggesting other broad changes, was posted on the department’s website two weeks ago but never officially announced to the public.
An external analysis of the department’s operations was expected to continue as planned. In its proposal to the city, the Center for Public Safety Management said it would use data to determine officers’ workload, examine the department’s structure and culture, compare the department’s operations to industry standards and make recommendations.
Becher said she had confidence in Schulz’s ability to lead the department while the city searched for a new chief.
“I’ve worked with him over the last six years that I’ve been in a senior-level position in the city,” said Becher, who previously served as assistant city manager.
A permanent chief would not be hired until City Council selects a new city manager, who would be responsible for selecting police department leadership, Becher said. It is unclear when that will be. The formal search process for the city manager’s position has not yet begun, and Council still needs to decide whether to use an outside search firm.
City staff was preparing a packet of documents outlining the previous police chief search process so the new city manager can move quickly to fill the position, Becher said. In the meantime, City Council and municipal staff are preparing for budget discussions to be completed in June.
Becher said she was unsure how long her interim term would last but that press coverage about problems at the police department and at City Hall may make the search for her replacement difficult.
“The message that the Tribune is continually printing on the front page of paper can be a real deterrent to hiring a city manager for the city and ultimately a police chief,” she said.
Schulz declined to answer whether he would be interested in the permanent position.
The department’s command staff and Becher met with all the police department staff who were in the building Friday afternoon to discuss Wetzel’s departure, Schulz said. He said he told officers and staff that he was available to answer any questions or listen to any concerns.
Since then, command staff and Becher have attended briefings with each of the four patrol teams as well as briefings with the dispatchers at the Public Safety Communication Center to relay the same message.
Schulz said that he believes almost every person who works in the department and the dispatch center had been personally contacted by himself or a member of command staff about the change in leadership. A few people had been on vacation at the time of the meetings, but Schulz said that many of those people had come to him to talk after they returned.
“I think things are running smoothly for what has occurred,” he said.
Star-Tribune staff writer Arno Rosenfeld contributed to this report.