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Columbia police chief candidates address violent crime solutions at candidate forum

Watch candidates speak with media in the web player above.

View a livestream of the forum in the web player above.


Four people vying for Columbia's police chief job made their pitches to the public on Wednesday night.

The four finalists include: former Forest Park Chief of Police and Public Safety Director Nathaniel Clark from Georgia; Major for the Human Resources Division in Kansas City Dan Haley; Assistant Police Chief for Columbia Police Department Jill Schlude; and Deputy Police Chief Michael Zeller from Greeley, Colorado.

Moderator David Lile asked each of the candidates the same five questions. The candidates could not hear the others' answers while the forum took place. The forum focused on plans to address violent crime, staffing, accreditation, homelessness and mental health and working with community groups.

Each candidate presented an idea to tackle violent crime, but admitted they wanted to present it to the community if hired. Schlude floated the idea of "focused deterrence," where several law enforcement agencies identify those responsible for violent crime and reach out to them in hopes of preventing it.

Haley's vision included an acronym - CPIERR, standing for Columbia Prevention, Intervention, Enforcement, Reentry and Rehabilitation. Haley said he would share the details of the plan with officers, detectives and the community to "see what they're looking for."

Clark said he wanted to incorporate new technology to help solve crime. He wanted to also empower the officers to share ideas to "deliver a level of service that is second to none."

Zeller said he helped implement an "evidence-based" program in Greeley that saw some success in reducing crime prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said while it might work in Columbia, he wanted to be "sensitive" to the desire of the community before implementing a new plan.

The city hired Public Sector Search and Consulting Inc. who specializes in areas like recruiting police executives, to help them with the search for a new chief.

The search for a new police chief follows after former Columbia Police Chief Geoff Jones announced his retirement from the position back in June. Since Jones' last day of work on Aug. 1, Matt Stephens has served as interim police chief.

During the forum, candidates were asked five questions about community violence, staffing shortages, earning accreditation, homelessness and working with community groups. 

Nathaniel Clark

Clark touted his 37 years of experience, graduation from the FBI Academy and a trip to Israel to learn how policing can be different than in the United States. He also added that Forest Park, Georgia, has similar demographics to Columbia.  

His plan to address the community involved engaging with community stakeholders, utilizing technology and predictive policing, which he says would include putting more resources in place in hotspots for crime. 

“I’m talking about body cameras. I’m talking about Shot Spotter (a software system used to detect gunshots). I’m talking about the latest technology to ensure that we’ll be one if not two steps ahead of the criminals,” Clark said. “When I started in law enforcement years ago, we carried revolvers. Five or six shots. Guess what the criminals were carrying? Automatics. We always need to be one step ahead.” 

Clark also claimed that Forest Park had a 10-year low in crime before he left the department. 

When asked about staffing shortages during the forum, Clark said he would like to use current officers on staff to help with recruitment. During a press conference after the forum, he was also asked about how he would bring diversity, equity and inclusion to the department. He acknowledged that it is important to enhance training and mirroring the community that the police force represents but added that his focus will be on hiring the best candidates possible. 

“I want to have the best and most qualified applicants. I don’t necessarily want to focus on race or gender. I also want to include education, experience skill sets.” 

ABC 17 News also asked him about the multiple lawsuits, that have since been settled, that he had from other cities. 

Jill Schlude

Schlude has worked for the department since 2005, holding various positions. She served as acting police chief when Ken Burton left the city and has been assistant police chief since 2019.

Schlude said her desire to bring back focused deterrence comes from renewed promises from other law enforcement agencies -- such as the Boone County Prosecutor's Office -- to participate. She touted her knowledge of the department and the city in her ability to lead.

"I've seen a lot of different ideas," Schlude said during an interview with media. "We've tried things, we've been successful sometimes, sometimes we fail at things. But the important thing is learning from those things. I try to be at student of leadership, of innovative policing practices. I know the people that work here, I know a lot of their strengths, and I think I would be able to get the right people in the right places to get some of these things going really quickly."

On recruitment, Schlude said the department needed to be nimble in allowing people to apply for positions online. She said young people may outright give up on a job opportunity if it didn't have a way to apply from their smartphone.

Schlude wants a renewed focus on officer health and career development, if hired. She said officers may be more likely to stay with a department if managers know their career goals and help foster them. She wants to more normalize conversations about mental health in the department.

"One of the ways we retain officers better, I think, is making sure we treat people as human beings and not treating people like robots who are traveling from call to call to call," Schlude said.

Dan Haley 

Haley said he will only make an action plan about reducing crime after getting input from the community. However, he did suggest hot spot policing as well a program used by Omaha Police called Omaha 360, which utilizes collaboration with the community and data to address crime. 

“Part of my ideas and part of this vision which will later be shaped with the community to have a shared vision is called CPRIER or Columbia, Prevention, Intervention, Enforcement, Reentry and Rehabilitation,” Haley said. “So that way pulling all of the community together to work hard with the police department to reduce crime, kind of like focus deterrence.” 

Some of the ideas he expressed, during the forum, to help with recruitment included a 24/7 daycare for officers with children, increasing benefits and giving better incentives because “money matters.” He also stressed focusing on staff retention and believes these options are just some of the ways CPD can help “stop the bleeding.” 

When asked what he thought of CPD from an outsider's perspective, he said he was impressed with their Investigations Division. 

“When you look at their solve rate, I was talking with some people today with homicides. That’s pretty awesome,” Haley said. 

During the forum, Haley also discussed treating community groups as equal partners. 

“Bring you to the decision-making table. Let your voice be heard. I can’t stress that enough,” Haley said during the forum. 

Haley was also asked if he had any concerns about getting acclaimed if he was chosen for the role. 

“I think if you are a leader you have to be out front. You have to be in the community making these connections and these one one-on-one connections, having me see the people and the people seeing me, me seeing the people,” Haley said. 

Michael Zeller

Zeller said he wants to use a data-driven approach to combat crime. He said he has used a case management system called DDACS, or Dynamic Decision and Case Management System. 

“So back in 2015, 2016 as a watch commander, I implemented that program in our department. he next year, 2017 and through 2020 we had a pretty steady decline of crime,” Zeller said. “I think that could work here, but I also want to be sensitive to the needs of the community and develop a strategy that works for Columbia.’  

Zeller said he comes from a community that is 40% Hispanic in Greeley, Colorado so he is used to working with diverse groups. He said Greeley did not have a citizens police review board, so that would be something new. He said believes that being honest, taking accountability and building strong relationships will help him build trust in the community.  

Zeller was also asked about homelessness. While he lived in Greeley, he said he served on a state task force that advised Colorado legislators on mental health issues. 

“Law enforcement has a critical role to play but needs the community to help,” Zeller said during the forum. 

During the forum, Zeller stated it is important that Columbia “takes aggressive steps now to solve the problem” before it becomes a larger issue. He added that he would work with community partners to try and help the homeless. But for those who refuse help, the police will have to enforce the law. However, he added that law enforcement “can’t arrest our way out of the homeless issue”. 

ABC 17 News also asked Zeller what he thought of CPD from an outside perspective. 

“They’re a professional organization, the officers and leadership that I’ve met, I’ve been very impressed with,” Zeller said. “I think they’re devoted to this community and want to make things better for it’s citizens. Things that they can work on, obviously recruitment and retention is a big issue.” 

When asked about how he would address the CPD staffing shortage, Zeller said that building a strong culture was key. He wants “robust training” and a culture that makes officers feel valued and appreciated. 

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Lucas Geisler

Lucas Geisler anchors the 5 p.m. show for ABC 17 News and reports on the latest news around mid-Missouri at 9 and 10 p.m.

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Mitchell Kaminski

Mitchell Kaminski is from Wheaton, Illinois. He earned a degree in sports communication and journalism from Bradley University. He has done radio play-by-play and co-hosts a Chicago White Sox podcast.


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