The City of Salem has narrowed the search for a Police Chief to replace retiring Jerry Moore to two candidates, Malik Aziz and Trevor Womack. (That link allows you to submit a question to be asked of Aziz and Womack during their October 30 interviews in Salem.)
I spent some time today Googling Aziz and Womack. Obviously this is a very rough way of coming to a conclusion about which man would be best suited to lead Salem's Police Department.
But, hey, us bloggers are opinionated, and I came up with an opinion: Malik Aziz.
First, and most obviously, Aziz is Black. This means something given how the Black Lives Matter movement has been casting a light on the treatment of people of color at the hands of police.
Hiring Aziz would send a message that the police department is committed to ending racial disparities in policing. Sure, there's debate about how much systemic racism exists in the department, but there's clearly a widespread suspicion among a large segment of the community that there is.
Also, Aziz speaks Arabic. That may not mean much in Salem, but it's a cool ability.
Aziz has been a deputy chief in the Dallas, Texas police department and is now a Major, having been demoted in a reorganization recently. A 2016 profile by a Memphis reporter, where he was applying for the police chief job, contains some appealing observations about Aziz.
Dallas Deputy Chief Malik Aziz likes to describe himself as a community guy who fights crime — and he says having that emphasis on the community has made him a better law enforcement officer.
"I'm a public servant and I'm obligated to make sure people are safe. I'm also obligated to hear people who have concerns. I've never gone to a place wearing my rank. I'm a community guy," Aziz said. "When you grow up in (those) communities, you have a better understanding of how to deal with issues that have been plaguing those communities for decades."
...Aziz has a national profile — perhaps more than any other candidate. He's appeared on CNN, PBS and National Public Radio talking about community policing, race relations, the deadly shooting in Dallas and being a black police officer.
...Sara Mokuria, co-founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality in Dallas, said that while she doesn't know Aziz personally, he reached out to her and they will meet next month.
"He said he wants to bridge the gap and move forward to repair the issues we have regarding police brutality," said Mokuria, whose father was killed by police in 1992.
Aaron Michaels founded the New Black Panther Party in Dallas in the 90s and is critical of the Dallas Police Department, but says Aziz is one of the best deputy chiefs he's ever worked with.
"We couldn't have done some of the things we needed (inside the police department) without him," said Michaels of Aziz.
Michaels says he's known Aziz for about 30 years and that Memphis would be lucky to have him leading the police department.
"He had a hard life coming up and he turned many of the negatives around," he said. "He brings that perspective to the table."
Michaels said Aziz is also not afraid to point out bad officers.
"He's able to spot problem officers."
Aziz currently also is one of six finalists for the Milwaukee, Wisconsin police chief job. He touts his progressivism in a story by a Milwaukee TV station. Since Salem is a progressive city, with six of eight city councilors in the progressive camp, this is another way Aziz would be a good fit for Salem.
A Dallas Police Major hopes he can bring his progressive style to the Milwaukee Police Department as its next chief.
“Whatever city that decides they want Malik Aziz as a progressive police chief, that’s it,” Major Malik Aziz said. “I’m a big city commander. Those things are commonplace, working with communities and progressive cities like Dallas. The Dallas Police Department is a very progressive police department. Very progressive for community relations.”
All that said, Trevor Womack has some strong points in his police background also.
A Bloomberg story talks about a pioneering program in Stockton, California, where Womack has been deputy police chief. I had trouble reading the story online, but was able to export a PDF file.
Download What Police-Community Reconciliation Can Look Like - Bloomberg
Standing before the congregation of the Progressive Community Church of Stockton, California, Eric Jones, the city’s police chief, apologized.
It was July 2016, in the furious days after the police shootings of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Those were followed closely by the deadly ambush of police officers in Dallas, Texas, and in Baton Rouge after protests over the Sterling killing.
Nationwide, police departments were assuming a protective posture as outrage roiled cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. But Jones was out in his community, talking about the role of police in everything from pre-Civil War slave-catching to Jim Crow enforcement and the carceral policies of the War on Drugs.
“This needs to be said,” the white police chief told the largely African American congregation. “There was a time when police used to be dispatched to keep lynchings ‘civil,’ That’s a fact of our history that we need to acknowledge.”
...That apology marked the beginning of an unprecedented truth-and-reconciliation process with communities of color in Stockton, a high-poverty city in California’s Central Valley that for years has been struggling with a familiar American crisis. When Jones took over as chief in 2012, its annual murder rate was higher than Chicago’s.
That year, the city of 300,000 saw 71 homicides and an overall crime rate more than twice the national average. A municipal bankruptcy had slashed the size of the police force, and it could barely keep up with 911 calls.
After two decades of zero-tolerance policing tactics, a history of local abuse, and high-profile officer-involved shootings, there was a deep well of mistrust between police and the Stockton communities most beset by violence. A career Stockton officer, Jones had begun taking steps to improve, training his officers on fair practices and using more focused, less invasive strategiesto prevent violence.
But he came to believe that they wouldn’t make real headway on addressing the city’s public safety issues unless he embarked on something more radical: not just apologies but atonement.
...For the last two years, the Stockton Police Department has been working toward reconciliation using a trust-restoration script devised by American criminologists and international experts in transitional justice. Along with a host of departmental reforms, police in Stockton have held a series of dialogues and workshops designed to repair their shattered relationship with the communities they serve.
Rather than broad gestures at police “accountability” that promote measures like body cameras, the city has committed to changing departmental norms wholesale. It’s an uncertain, and maybe never-ending process, one that almost certainly will not conclude with a telegenic Hallmark display of forgiveness. What it might yield instead is a foundation for real trust and greater community control.
...Trevor Womack, one of Jones’s deputy chiefs, stood up. “I think what you just offered right there is one of the most important things in this entire training for me,” he said. “So I grew up in North Stockton. I never, ever had an experience where I was stopped by the police. No one that I knew was ever arrested. Nobody I knew was shot or killed.”
That was the understanding—or lack thereof—that he took to his first assignment as a 21-year-old white cop, when he was detaining and pointing his gun at residents of Southeast Stockton, he said. “I wish I could go back to the day I started and have this kind of conversation. I would have been a whole different police officer.”
That's great. Womack's words are admirable.
But the way I see it, Salem has a choice between hiring a Black man, Aziz, to be police chief who has direct personal experience of discrimination, and Womack, a white man who has had to learn second-hand about how police discriminate against people of color.
That's why I favor Aziz.
Thank you, Brian, for digging into the public information on the two candidates. One of the questions you did not explore is whether either of the two candidates will use the Salem position as a stepping stone for a more prestigious larger department position in the near future. That is a question that needs to be asked of both candidates.
Posted by: E.M. | October 19, 2020 at 09:44 AM
Good Googleing Brian! Both candidates look promising to me. Regarding Womack, Salem and Stockton could hardly be more different. Besides being twice the size of Salem, Stockton is a high crime city and Salem is a low crime city. The article mentions 71 homicides in Stockton in 2012. In that year Salem had 7. Salem has averaged 5 homicides a year in the past 10 years that FBI data is available. The problem with the SPD, is not misbehavior (as in too many PDs as we have seen), but cost. We spend one out of every three General Fund dollars on the SPD and as a result have underfunded parks, libraries, code enforcement, planning -- the list goes on. I think it's time to "right size" the SPD to better fit the low crime rate in Salem. I'm hoping the upcoming performance audit will take a hard look at where we can really get our money's worth and where we can dispense with what the Breakfast on Bikes blogger calls "security theater." This will really be needed if we can be successful in shifting responsibility for dealing with our unsheltered population away from the SPD and if we pass Measure 110 to decriminalize drug possession. In theory that should take away a big part of the current SPD workload. The police union, of course, is going to fight like hell to maintain the status quo.
Posted by: Jim S | October 19, 2020 at 09:50 AM