New Arlington Public Safety Officer tries to fix police problems

Fire Chief Stedman is the new Arlington Public Safety Officer, who will be working on plans to improve the embattled police department. - Kirk Boxleitner
Fire Chief Stedman is the new Arlington Public Safety Officer, who will be working on plans to improve the embattled police department.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — As the city's new Public Safety Officer, Bruce Stedman is focused on moving forward in the wake of a consultant's critical assessment of the police department and its chief's subsequent resignation.

In January, the city continued its eight-year practice of studying its departments by commissioning the Matrix Consulting Group to conduct an analysis of the management, staffing and operations of the police department. On May 15, the study was completed, and on May 20, Arlington Police Chief Nelson Beazley resigned.

While the city declined comment on the resignation, the study pointed to what even Stedman acknowledged were prevalent problems in the management, administration and communication processes of the department.

Among the goals outlined by the study is to reduce the increase in crime over the past four years.

"The only way we can deal with heroin and aggressive begging and other issues is, in the words of the Navy, with all hands on deck," Stedman said. "This will require everyone's input and support, from the community to the police department to the city government. A lot of these groups have already tried to tackle these problems, but their efforts weren't as coordinated as they could have been."

Stedman served as chief of the Arlington Fire Department before Mayor Barbara Tolbert named him Public Safety Officer June 3, one day after the City Council created the two-year position.

"The good news is that this tells me that the cops on the streets are doing a great job," Stedman said, citing the findings that police had an "excellent response time to emergency calls," averaging about 3.7 minutes.

Police Cmdr. Brian DeWitt and Deputy Fire Chief Tom Cooper report to Stedman in his new role, to which he brings not only 36 years of experience in public safety, but also a master's degree in Emergency Services Administration and a bachelor's degree in Occupational Studies, both from California State University, Long Beach.

Stedman plans to make himself redundant as the Public Safety Officer by helping the city and its police and fire departments develop three- to five-year plans.

"I'll be meeting with the departments' supervisors in June, to make sure our mission and vision statements are things that we can believe in," said Stedman, who added that a "SWOT" analysis of the departments' strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats would also be included. Meetings will continue in July.

"The public will be represented as well, but by having members of those departments sit in on the other's meetings, I hope to have them come up with ways they can help each other," Stedman said. "We won't be combining the departments, but we should look for more opportunities to use our resources collaboratively."

Stedman explained the planning process will consist of outlining goals for each department, along with assigning personnel and completion dates to achieve those goals.

Stedman promised more training in response to another survey criticism.

"We need to be spending more time on professional development anyway, so that we can grow our leaders from within our ranks, and not have to hire all of our chiefs from outside our departments," Stedman said.

"We've got a lot of talented people here already, so if we develop them appropriately, morale issues should take care of themselves," he added, referring to the findings that more than 70 percent of the 29 police staff indicated their dissatisfaction through personal interviews and an anonymous survey.

Indeed, when the time comes to hire a new police chief in a couple of years, Stedman sees the plan for the department as a key hiring criterion.

"We'll be telling them, 'Here's the plan. Do you understand it, and do you support it?'" Stedman said.

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