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Search for West Valley City police chief narrowed to one

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 1 2015 5:03 p.m. MDT

West Valley City officials have narrowed their search for a new police chief to one candidate. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) West Valley City officials have narrowed their search for a new police chief to one candidate. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

WEST VALLEY CITY — West Valley City officials have narrowed their search for a new police chief to one candidate.

The Deseret News has learned that after several months of reading over applications and conducting multiple interviews, the city has shortened its original list of 36 applicants down to just one.

"We have a final candidate and are currently in negotiations with that person to reach an employment agreement," West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder said Thursday. "We are still confident of having a chief announced before the summer is over."

City officials were not ready Thursday to say who the final candidate was or disclose any information about that person. But Assistant West Valley City Manager Paul Issac said two-thirds of those who applied for the job were from out of state, submitting applications from as far away as Alaska and Florida to lead the department that has been embroiled in controversy during the past year.

"We had a really good response," he said.

Issac hoped that a new police chief could be signed by the end of next week and a public announcement made by mid-August.

Those 36 original candidates were whittled down to 23 by having each person submit a video presentation, answering a question they were given by the city. From that point, nine candidates were brought to West Valley City Hall to be interviewed by a group of 15 people that included city employees, business leaders and chiefs of police from cities outside of West Valley. Most of the 15 interviewers, Issac said, were from outside West Valley.

"We tried to get all walks of life," he said.

Each interviewer would set up a role-playing situation for the applicant to measure reactions to different scenarios, Issac said. From that group, the final four candidates were selected by the city manager.

West Valley's embattled police department has been under intense public scrutiny following a series of high-profile incidents. In November, two undercover narcotics officers shot and killed 21-year-old Danielle Willard during an investigation. The shooting is still being reviewed by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office to determine if it was legally justified. In June, Willard's parents filed a wrongful death suit against the city.

That shooting sparked a series of investigations revealing the mishandling of evidence that led West Valley police to disband its Neighborhood Narcotics Unit. It also prompted the district attorney's office and the U.S. Attorney's Office to dismiss 124 criminal cases linked to the narcotics unit.

Part of the interview process in selecting a new chief involved determining how well each candidate understood the controversies facing the department and the challenges ahead.

"We want someone that is interested enough to know all about our city and some of the challenges we face," Issac said. "That was one of the key things. Some of the questions we asked were pretty in-depth about cultural change, building morale, and responding and being transparent in communications and discipline and investigations and that kind of stuff."

Issac said city officials are "really positive" about all the finalists and excited about what will happen with the department in the future. But he said they're also just as anxious as the public to finalize the process and get a new chief named.

Anita Schwemmer has been the acting chief since Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen took a leave of absence to have back surgery, which later turned into retirement when he realized his recovery would be much longer than originally anticipated.

Schwemmer has stated previously she would not be seeking the chief's position so she could spend more time with her recently retired husband.

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