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Wednesday, June 27, 2007 11:31 pm

All’s well with Caldwell?

Interim police chief tells City Council why he’s right for the job

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Ralph Caldwell
PHOTO BY R.L. NAVE
Untitled Document Ralph Caldwell, acting chief of the Springfield Police Department, appeared before City Council members Tuesday evening to answer their questions and make his case for why he should be approved as chief — the job that has been his goal for years.
The question-and-answer session was Caldwell’s first chance to speak publicly since Mayor Tim Davlin named him as his choice for chief on June 1. Since that date, Caldwell — who is loquacious by nature — has declined all requests for interviews [see Dusty Rhodes, “Ralph!” June 14]. Finally unmuzzled before council, he had much to say.
The hearing lasted almost three hours, with Caldwell on his feet the entire time. Offered the chance to make an opening statement, he skipped past it, saying only that he was “honored to be here, and I obviously want to be your next police chief,” and that he was “ready for any and all questions that you might have for me.”
Exuding organization, preparedness, and charm, Caldwell had a tabbed binder apparently filled with ideas and statistics, plus a dozen members of his trusted staff arrayed behind him, ready to help him handle the barrage of inquiries. Though Caldwell normally wears a business suit and a necktie, he appeared at this session in uniform.
He hit several key phrases repeatedly during the hearing. He emphasized his “27 and a half years” of experience at SPD, and his unpaid role as Director of Homeland Security over and over again. He described himself as a “workaholic” at least three times, and touted his leadership ability. “I feel I’m a very strong leader. I don’t have any problem making decisions. I don’t have any problem disciplining people,” Caldwell told the council. “I have no problem leading whatsoever. Matter of fact, I enjoy leading or else I wouldn’t be the assistant chief today, and I wouldn’t be putting in for the chief’s job if I had a problem leading.”
He also told the aldermen that if he wasn’t chosen as chief, he would likely apply for a similar job elsewhere, and leave SPD. Among the improvements he has planned for SPD:
• Reinstituting the “gang unit” disbanded years ago under Chief John Harris’s administration. • Forming a “mini task force” with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives so that a federal agent would be present at every homicide scene.
• Focusing on minority recruiting and retention, including reinstituting a lateral entry program, if the police union approves. • Establishing financial incentives for officers to earn college degrees. • Offering a hiring bonus and expanding the take-home car program, to improve SPD’s compeititveness with other agencies. • Raising or eliminating the age limit for new recruits (currently it’s 35 years old). A few tense moments arose under questioning by Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards and Ward 2 Ald. Gail Simpson. Edwards, reading from a summary of the Illinois State Police investigation into misconduct by two SPD detectives — some while under Caldwell’s indirect supervision — pressed for an explanation of why Caldwell claimed he didn’t know or didn’t recall an incident that another assistant chief said he knew. Caldwell responded that the other assistant chief, whom he did not name, was untruthful. “I’m telling you, that did not happen. That individual may not be happy with me. I don’t know that he was happy with the chief. There was definitely a feud between the chief and some other individuals,” he said. Simpson pressed Caldwell on why he had not yet read ISP’s report on the investigation. “As an individual who wants to be chief, do you think you need to read it?” she asked. “I could read it, yeah,” Caldwell said, then explained that he had been busy with other duties. “You don’t think you need to?” Simpson persisted.
“I said I don’t have a problem reading it,” Caldwell responded. “Do you think you need to read it?” Simpson asked again. “Sure,” Caldwell said.
Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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