In our opinion: W.V.'s new chief

Published: Friday, Aug. 30 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

West Valley City Police Chief Lee Russo speaks with reporters at the Triad Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Aug. 28, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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The West Valley City Police Department has had more than its share of controversy over the past few years. Consider the mishandling of evidence that resulted in 125 drug cases being dismissed, or the botched investigation into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Susan Powell, or, more recently, the police shooting of a 21-year-old girl that Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has alleged was unjustified.

Clearly, this is a police department that needed to make some substantive changes, and it looks like they'll be getting them in the form of new Chief of Police Lee Russo.

Russo comes to the job with impressive credentials and a legacy of success. The crime rate in his city decreased while he served as the Chief of Police in Covington, Ky., from 2007 until 2012. In addition, local residents praised his efforts to involve the community in keeping Covington safe.

Yet the Russo appointment is not without controversy of its own. Midway through Russo's tenure, a staggering 94 percent of the officers in the local lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police expressed their disapproval of their boss with a vote of "no confidence."

So what to make of the one serious blemish on his otherwise impeccable record?

For his part, Russo has tried to put a good face on a bad situation, acknowledging in news reports that he has "stepped on some toes" as he has "built a career out of facing challenges and not backing down." He's also noted that he was the first person outside of the Covington department to be named as chief in a century, so he insists there was some tremendous institutional resistance to someone stepping in from the outside. All that is likely true, but the lopsided percentage of the vote makes it hard to believe that Russo was entirely a victim of circumstance or minor misunderstandings.

Russo comes to his new assignment as an outsider, too, and he will likely face many of the same issues that led to the low morale of the officers working with him in his previous assignment. Hopefully, he has learned his lessons and can avoid the mistakes he made last time.

We wish him well, and we're encouraged by the tremendous confidence that West Valley City officials have placed in him. If nothing else, the selection of Russo demonstrates West Valley City is serious about getting its house in order.

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