Top Cop: Chief Fowler sits down for a mid-year review

Walt Shepperd 07/23/10More articles
Syracuse Chief of Police Frank Fowler. Photo Ami Olson
As Chief of Police I have lofty goals, lofty expectations. Not pie-in-the-sky stuff. Just stuff that Iím prepared to grind my teeth and work real hard every day to make happen.
After six months on the job, Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler took time to reflect on his performance, giving himself a report card on dealing with the challenges he inherited and his position on the current conflict between the Police Benevolent Association and the Mayor.

If you were giving yourself a report card, how would you grade your first six months on the job?
Letís go with a number. Iíd give myself about a 90.

If your parents asked why you didnít get 100, how would you explain?
This is the first marking period, a time of reluctance for giving out high grades because you always want to leave room for improvement, and thereís a lot to be learned. A teacher would point out that the assignments are likely to get more difficult, and you donít want to set up a kid for failure by saying they were perfect. So if you can maintain a 90, thatís excellent. If you drop below that, itís almost expected because of the challenges ahead.

What were the high and the low points of the six months?
Letís go with the high point. The high point was traveling down to Washington D.C. back in June. We had two police officers winning the national Top Cop Award. These gentlemen got invited to the White House. I went along with them and got a chance to shake hands with President Barack Obama. That was great, but what impressed me was we have a little under 500 police officers, and we brought down more than 70 police officers. We were the talk of the town for a national police event. That says that the esprit de corps we have within the Police Department is galvanized.
One of the things, and I wouldnít categorize it as being the low point in my career, but because itís just happening and weíre still making our way back from it, is the issue with the Mayor and the presentation of the award. Right now it sits as a distraction. Weíre working hard to get past that, and we will get past that. I think that a lot of the police officers were affected by that. It came at a point when I feel that morale was up at a very high level. It came at a point when we were rounding significant corners in addressing issues as a new administration, when the summer was just beginning, and the [Post-Standard] had a feeding frenzy with it, almost every day.

What will it take to get past it?
I think that the people involvedóand Iím confident that at some point they will sit down togetheróneed to be able to express to one another their points of view. Theyíre either going to agree or agree to disagree. And theyíre going to do it in a respectful manner. Iím confident that thatís going to happen, and I look forward that happening.

Who needs to talk to whom? Who needs to make a move?
I donít know who needs to make the move, but I know the people that need to be in the room. Clearly, itís the Mayor and the Union will have to sit down and have a conversation. In time, both sides will likely cross whatever threshold thatís before them.

As Chief, could you be the one to broker that?
Iím absolutely willing to do that if that opportunity makes itself available to me. I will do everything that I can do encourage that. But I donít want to identify myself as being the broker for that, because that would mean that Iím assuming that I have some power and authority over a situation that Iím not certain that I do have. I would love to see that happen, though.
The issue involves lawsuits regarding treatment of women on the force.
A lot of those things happened quite a while ago, and changes were made. Changes were made by the previous administration under Chief Gary Miguel, and those changes are continuing to occur. Under my administration we are looking at this very closely. One of the unique things about my administration is that I hired the first female Deputy Chief of Police. The reason I hired her is that she is extremely intelligent, very smart and tough. She knows this business. Fortunately for me she happens to have a background in EOC work [equal opportunity employment], and was the person in the department who did EOC work the right way.
It was unfortunate that we lost the lawsuits, and because they are still pending, Iím not going to offer up any opinion about them because they are under appeal. Iíll leave it at that, but it comes at a very unfortunate time, and even though itís our problem to fix, itís tough to have that issue to deal with right now.

If you had a magic wand, what three things would you change tomorrow?
The first thing Iíd change is to rewind the clock to a better time, a better fiscal, better financial time. When I sat down in my seat in January, it was with the understanding that with the Stimulus Grant that was made available to me, that I would hit the streets in the summer months with 520 police officers to go out there and conquer the problems that exist in this great city of ours. Now I understand these budget cutsóthey were across the board. But I donít work at DPW. I donít work at Parks and Rec. I donít work at Codes. My focus is the Police Department. So I would rewind the clock to a better financial time, with those officers to hit the streets.
Number two is still financial. There is a lot of equipment out there that I could pursue for my people. We are getting our share of grants. However there is some equipment out there that is just nice to be able to give your people.
Three, I would wave the wand to reduce the level of violence in the city significantly. Our officers are going out there and recovering a gun a day. A gun a day. What that says is that every police officer can reasonably assume that some person they encounter in the course of a day is in possession of a gun.
As Chief of Police I have lofty goals, lofty expectations. Not pie-in-the-sky stuff. Just stuff that Iím prepared to grind my teeth and work real hard every day to make happen. Weíve got a lot of work ahead of us. But if I had the wand, we would be the safest city in America.

Whatís one thing you never would have imagined, but discovered once you got in that chair?
Getting in the chair itself. You can watch a police officer develop, and know that he or she will be somebody special. I never once looked at myself like that because I was so grateful to be a police officer in the first place that if I had just spent 30 years as an officer, it would have been an awesome career. But after 21 years Iím the Chief of Police. Itís simply amazing.

You organized Camp 415 so that African-American officers could speak to the powers that be. Now you are the powers that be. Is there still a need for Camp 415?
Absolutely. I think we still need Camp 415. I think that everyone deserves to have a voice. One of the main reasons I formed Camp 415 was that I saw quickly that the African-American police officers didnít have a collective voice. When it came to issues that I felt African-American officers should either be a part of, or should be consulted with, or should be included in on, we were not. How do we go about doing that? Thereís an old adage that says thereís strength in numbers. Iím a firm believer in that. Iím very reluctant to speak for people without their permission.

Do women on the force have a collective voice?
A collective voice? No. Thereís no organization I know of thatís specifically for women.

Would it be helpful to have one?
I grew up in a household with nine womenóeight sisters and a mother. Iím not going to speak for a woman. I know better. Thatís a question that would be best posed to a female police officer.

You got your report card grade, but there is always that section that says ďcomments.Ē What are the comments on your report card for the first marking period?
Fair. Consistent. And hard working.

CATEGORY: General Society
TAGS: Chief of Police Frank Fowler, Walt Shepperd, City of Syracuse Police Department, Camp 415, Mayor Stephanie Miner
EDITION: The Eagle

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