Interim police chief in for one year, but hopes it’s longer
City manager says search for permanent chief won’t come “in a vacuum”
The interim chief of the Craig Police Department, now one month into a one-year contract with the city, makes no qualms about his interest in the job for the long term.
“If they opened up (the application process) tomorrow, I’d be first in line,” Capt. Michael Cochran said this week.
For now, the city isn’t searching for a new chief of police, which will be advertised with a salary range of $87,745 to $126,133 if the job is posted this year, according to City Manager Pete Brixius.
“Interim Chief Cochran has a one-year contract with the department and our current search is for a police captain to support the interim chief,” Brixius said in an email response to questions from the Craig Press.
Cochran took the place of Jerry DeLong, whose resignation as chief of police took effect March 1.
DeLong, who had 35 years on the force and was the chief since February 2018, split acrimoniously with the city Feb. 11 when Brixius terminated a separation agreement that included two months of severance pay and health benefits. Brixius, according to emails obtained by the Craig Press through an open-records request, rescinded the agreement after determining DeLong had made disparaging remarks about the city and by doing so violated the severance deal.
The city didn’t just need to find a replacement for DeLong on the CPD. Police Capt. Bill Leonard, who was second-in-command, announced his retirement March 14, which came after the city placed him on administrative leave Feb. 11, the same date Brixius nixed the separation agreement with DeLong.
In the meantime, Cochran said the city has entrusted him to hire the next assistant police chief. That hiring, however, won’t come until Cochran consults with city human resources and a board comprised of personnel from local law enforcement agencies, which also will interview candidates.
“Once the board turns over their rankings to me, I review them and at that point we’d make a determination,” he said.
The opening has attracted two applicants from within the CPD, he said. The city began marketing the job outside of the police department last week, Cochran said.
The decision to hire a permanent chief of police ultimately rests with the city manager. Brixius’ approach to hiring a full-time chief will be similar to Cochran’s approach to an assistant.
“The interview process will be a committee made up of two council persons, human resources, law enforcement member(s), city attorney and myself,” Brixius said. “Ultimately, the city manager makes the final decision, but that process to arrive at the final decision is not made in a vacuum.”
The Craig police chief oversees a staff that currently includes two investigators, three patrol sergeants, one corporal, 11 patrol officers and two school resource officers. The department has one opening for a patrol officer, Cochran said.
Now 52, Cochran came to Craig four years ago, joining the police department before becoming deputy sheriff and emergency management coordinator for the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office.
He switched to the Sheriff’s Office, he said, because his son got a job working at its detention facility. Working in some capacity with his son in law enforcement, Cochran said, was an enticing opportunity he had to take.
“For me, it was a huge thing that I could work with him,” he said.
Cochran’s career in law enforcement dates back to 1989 when he was a patrol deputy at Paulding County Sheriff’s Department in Georgia. More recently in Georgia, he was the interim police chief of Powder Springs from January 2017 through May 2017.
The Craig Police Department enjoys community support, but the force can do better in public engagement, he said.
“Fortunately we are in an area where we have huge public support,” he said. “The people are very supportive and we appreciate that. But to keep those relationships, you have to foster them.”
Cochran is an advocate of the Law Enforcement Exploring program, which gives youth an opportunity to work with law enforcement and get hands-on experience in the field.
“I have assigned an officer to get our explorer program back, and that’s huge because we have a very difficult time right now in law-enforcement recruitment and retention,” he said, “because of national resentment toward law enforcement. And the best place to start is in the school system with the youth.”
Brixius said the community will be involved in the process to bring a permanent chief of police into the fold, noting “the outreach will be focused on residents having a favorable view of the process that goes towards building trust between law enforcement and our citizens. Ultimately, the person selected will need qualities necessary to build community bonds with our citizens, neighboring agencies and certainly within the department.
“We need to ensure the candidate selected will be a leader that develops systems and strategies that proactively support crime prevention and build an environment at the department that will ensure engagement with our citizens and businesses in order to meet the needs of Craig.”
Cochran is working toward a master’s degree in public policy/administration from Liberty University; he has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration from Columbia Southern University.
With a career in law enforcement, Cochran said the national scrutiny his profession is under comes with the territory but does not adequately portray the overall job police are doing.
“If you find one bad apple, you throw the apple away,“ he said. ”You don’t throw away the whole bag.“
Cochran has been married 21 years and his children aged 16, 18 and 20.
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