The Fayetteville Observer Published: 09:24 PM, Thu Dec 20, 2012
Unwrapping The Candidates
It's rare for anyone to leave a Christmas present unopened. Yet that's exactly what happened Tuesday.
Fayetteville City Manager Ted Voorhees presented two widely publicized opportunities to meet, question and converse with the two police chief finalists. But fewer than 100 people came to the meetings. That meant most Fayettevilleans missed two wonderful pre-Christmas gifts.
Malik Aziz, 44, a deputy police chief from Dallas, Texas, and Harold Medlock, 55, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg deputy chief.
I was a little skeptical about the timing. How much can one learn in an hour? It would take 15 minutes just for Voorhees and City Council folk to make speeches.
I was wrong. Voorhees spoke for two minutes. No politicians spoke. Audience members asked direct, short questions. Without hesitation, Aziz and Medlock answered every question tossed at them - even irrelevant inquiries about their personal lives (more about that later).
Both deputy chiefs hold impressive histories of law enforcement covering several decades. Both are strong believers in community policing, with proof of participation on the tip of their tongues. Both have a can-do background and a we-can spirit.
Who am I to make such claims? I've been here just a few years. I'm still learning local politics. But I do know cops. I have relatives in law enforcement in Boston. I was a crime reporter for many years. And I worked crime scenes, mostly murders, with police officers when I was a member of the Los Angeles Police Department Crisis Response Team.
The team is a unique community policing organization, born of a need for someone who was not part of the crime-solving police unit to be on the scenes of murders, drive-bys or fatal accidents for the living victims. The CRT was made easier by the fact that we were volunteers, we had day jobs, and most violent crime happened at night - when we were all on call.
I've stood for hours in the street with a mom while police inside investigated how her son lost a game of Russian roulette. I've sat with officers as they worked unpaid double shifts because three children saw their mother slain in front of their eyes and, if we didn't find a relative by dawn, the kids would be split up and put in child-protective services. I once worked a dreadful scene in which two vans of high school graduates on their way to a party accidentally parked on a street owned by a notorious gang. Before the celebrants could exit the vehicles, seven were slaughtered.
Team members comfort, call relatives, cuddle infants, provide information, escort living victims through morgues to identify bodies. Once, we even helped hose down a walkway so the mother of a deceased youth would not have to step over blood going back into her home. We never knew what we would be asked to do. We never denied a request.
Fayetteville is so much smaller than Los Angeles that it may not need its own Crisis Response Team. But, community policing can be attuned to the particularities of any city. And these two men seemed knowledgeable and more than capable about how to achieve that, with, they stressed, the input and support of - you, guessed it, the community.
Did their homework
A sign of how quickly the two would respond quickly became evident. At the noon meeting, two of us voiced concerns about violence at one of the local universities. Somehow, in between a packed afternoon and before the 5 p.m. meeting, Aziz and Medlock had driven to and around the university, doing a quick exploration of how difficult or easy it was to gain entry.
In Wednesday's paper, reporter Andrew Barksdale gave a pretty detailed account of the two candidates' backgrounds and their answers to questions. I understand he will be writing more about these two personable, intelligent, oftentimes humorous men.
One local columnist did criticize Aziz for being more "reserved" than Medlock when answering a question from Councilman Keith Bates about their personal lives and his family life. Medlock said he had a wife of 30 years, Gloria. Aziz mentioned a 15-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son without providing their names or much detail.
In this new Internet age, in which privacy is violated with a keystroke, what the columnist criticized as reserved, I took as a protective reticence against providing any information about his teenage daughter. One can assume Aziz has arrested one or two bad guys in his 20 years with the Dallas police. Should he be criticized for not wanting to spell out her name, school, future goals, etc., in the news media?
The Bates question itself seemed inappropriate. Does not having children mean that Medlock would not appreciate family values? Does not discussing your children in an Internet world, where sexual predators lie in wait behind computer screens, imply that Aziz doesn't have family values?
To me, one of the signs that either man will be great at the job is the relationship that developed during the brief time they spent together on Tuesday. The noon meeting was the first time they had spoken together and were hearing each other's opinions. By the 5 p.m. meeting, they were using each other's first names, complimenting each other, and remarking about the similarity in their approaches. They generously laughed at each other's punchlines, even though they had heard them at noon.
The problem now? Which gift to return. "Aziz & Medlock" may sound like the newest TNT cop drama duo. But, unfortunately, we don't get to keep both of them.
Skye Dent is is a member of the Observer's Community Advisory Board, which meets regularly with the editorial board to discuss local issues and contributes op-ed columns. She has worked as a newspaper reporter, a screenwriter and a journalism professor.