Holding pattern

Chico city manager to appoint interim police chief, as COVID-19 sidelines recruitment and reduces revenues

City Manager Mark Orme, pictured shortly after the Camp Fire, is seeing Chico through yet another crisis. Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

The city of Chico will be appointing an interim police chief in the coming weeks, an outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recruitment for the position—held for the past five years by Chief Mike O’Brien—is on hold due to the city’s inability to conduct in-person interviews with candidates, City Manager Mark Orme told the CN&R. On top of the challenge of getting candidates in town are the social distancing requirements to preserve public health. Specifically, the state’s shelter-in-place order disallowing groups of 10 or more people to gather has made sit-down engagement between candidates and local stakeholders nearly impossible, he said.

“It’s extremely difficult when you can’t see that person in person,” he said.

Orme noted that recruitment for other openings—more than 20 altogether—is also paused as the city prepares for the next budget cycle and the potential economic fallout in the wake of the ongoing public health crisis, including future revenue losses stemming from the recent announcement out of the California State University Chancellor’s Office that the vast majority of Chico State’s classes will be conducted virtually. In late March, the university suspended in-person instruction, quickly transitioning to online courses, and later canceled the 2020 commencement ceremonies. City staff are collecting data on the current quarter ending in June to gauge impacts to the coffers next fall (a budget session will take place early next month).

Reached for comment on Thursday (May 14), about two weeks before O’Brien’s long-planned retirement in early June, Orme said he hadn’t reviewed applications but had been assured by the recruitment firm that there are numerous qualified candidates for chief of police.

O’Brien, a 31-year veteran lawman who’s spent 28 with the Chico Police Department, announced his retirement back in January. At the time, he revealed that he’d planned to retire last year but agreed to stay on after the Camp Fire and the city’s subsequent population surge. Orme confirmed this week that further postponement is not on the table.

In terms of an interim appointment to the post, Orme said current and former employees may be considered. His primary considerations are ensuring that both the department and the city are able to thrive during this uncertain time, while also not infringing upon “the integrity of the recruitment.”

“I really do care about the holistic outcome of this interim appointment,” he said.

About Melissa Daugherty 75 Articles
Melissa Daugherty is an award-winning columnist and editorial writer who started her career as a higher education reporter at a daily newspaper. Daugherty spent 17 years at the CN&R, eight of them as editor-in-chief. Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable is her super power.

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