Trevor Womack is the new chief of police in Salem, succeeding Jerry Moore, who retired. Today Chief Womack talked about his plans for the police department in a Salem City Club Zoom meeting.
There was little, if anything, that I could criticize abut what Womack said either in his initial presentation or in the following lengthy Q&A period.
And believe me, I'm not shy about criticizing City of Salem officials when I feel like they deserve it.
Right off the bat, I liked Womack's openness when he spoke about his background and family life. He said that he has a wife and five children, two biological children and three step-children.
His wife is still in Stockton since some, or maybe all, of the step-children are in high school. Womack said that they may decide to stay with their father, or they might decide to come to Salem.
I thought it was great to be so frank about some sensitive details of his life. Having been divorced myself, when my daughter was a senior at South High, I know how difficult it can be for step-children to adjust to a re-marriage of a parent.
Turning to his policing philosophy. Womack shared this slide, which encapsulated how he sees his job.
Smarter policing means using data and evidence-based approaches. Principled policing means character and community engagement.
Womack said that his assessment of the Salem Police Department (he's only been chief for about 90 days) will be informed by the performance audit requested by the City Council last year.
The questions he'll be asking include: What are we doing well? What could we do better? What should we stop doing?
He said that while it is likely the performance audit won't contain any surprises, there's value in having outside eyes take a look at the police department.
Womack will try to implement all of the performance audit recommendations.
Oa a related note, he said that a strategic plan will be worked on during the second half of 2021, with a completion date of January 2022.
He observed that sometimes process is more important than the outcome in such an effort. He'll be seeking input both from his officers and the community at large. Goals, objectives, and measurement metrics will be part of the strategic plan.
A questioner suggested that the department could have two tracks, one less militarized, almost like counselors. Womack agreed that police should be removed from situations that don't need a traditional police response.
Asked about dealing with homeless people, he said that this is an extremely complex situation with no easy answers. The lack of a sobering center makes the job of police officers more difficult.
I asked about how steadily declining crime rates nationally and in Salem affected how he looks at the role of police officers, suggesting that perhaps this points to the need for more crime prevention efforts and community policing.
Womack gave a pleasing response, not all of which I can remember since I was trying to listen to him while also scribbling in what turned out to be largely indecipherable handwriting of mine.
One point he made is that crime rates have been dropping while citizen attitudes about the legitimacy of police have been declining. So fighting crime isn't the end-all of policing if it erodes trust in police.
In response to another question, he said that trust-building never ends for a police department, adding "Communities who need us the most often trust us the least."
Regarding Salem Police Department training, Womack said that it is high quality.
He went on to say that additional training areas could include racial healing, trust building, community engagement, and implicit bias -- a term that I was pleasantly surprised to hear a police chief use, though maybe I shouldn't have been all that surprised.
Asked what the most pressing crime is in Salem, Womack said "violent crime." More needs to be learned about the cause of it: drugs? gangs? domestic violence? other factors? He also mentioned serious property crimes such as break-ins.
Lastly, when asked if the department is making recruitment presentations in high schools, he replied "yes," noting that he looks forward to being able to do this in-person rather than via Zoom.
My overall impression was that Womack is a straight-shooter, though I probably should think of a different term to praise a police chief.
He didn't shy away at all from probing questions, even seeming to welcome either implied or more explicit criticism of his department.
I got much the same feeling from his predecessor, Chief Moore, but I think Womack has a more modern and less institutional outlook on policing than Moore did, who sometimes could come across as defensive when people critiqued actions of his officers.
So good start, Chief Womack.