Citizens of Fort Collins vet police chief candidates through Q&A session

Carson Lipe

Most job interviews take place behind closed doors, but for the five remaining police chief candidates for the City of Fort Collins, it was a very different experience.

The police chief meet and greet took place Thursday, Mar. 1 at the Lincoln Center near Old Town, Fort Collins.

Ad

The hiring process is the result of the resignation of John Hutto, former chief, who stepped down amid a racial discrimination lawsuit

A group of five people behind a table
Five candiates for Fort Collins Police Chief, Terri Wilfong, Jeffrey Swoboda, Ashley Gonzalez, Michael Bray and Edward Bergin answers questions from the community. (Field Peterson | Collegian)

and other incidents, according to an article in the Coloradoan. 

“The purpose is for the community to get to know our police chief candidates,” Emily Davis, an administrative assistant for the City of Fort Collins, said. “They’re going to listen to the moderator ask the candidates questions and each candidate will have an opportunity to answer those questions.”

Community members were also encouraged to engage with the candidates.

“We’re also inviting the public to write down their questions for the candidate that will be asked later on during the event,” Davis said.

The police chief candidates came from a range of different backgrounds.

“The candidates are all from out of state,” Davis said. “We have a total of five candidates. The states range from Illinois to Maryland and Connecticut.”

From the minute the session started, the questions were straight to the point. One question asked about experience in addressing questions related to use of force and the actions taken within departments to align use-of-force policies with community values. 

The candidates were chosen at random to answer the questions, for which they were not able to prepare answers prior to the session. One of the first candidates to answer was Jeffrey Swoboda, current police chief of Elgin, Illinois, and a proponent of de-escalation tactics.

“Let’s look for those officers who can go out and know how to talk someone into handcuffs,” Swoboda said. “Let’s continue to promote those officers.”

Ad

Ashley Gonzalez, a deputy police chief from Norwalk, Connecticut, also formed his response around the motif of de-escalation, echoing the words of his former field training officer. 

“The best weapon you have is your mouth. Learn how to speak to people, treat people with dignity and respect… and you’ll get respect back,” Gonzalez said.

Community questions were related to current national and city issues, with the first question framed around what the candidates would do about school safety in an era of prevalent gun violence.

Terri Wilfong, former police chief of Greenville, South Carolina, and the only female candidate related schools to other levels of national security. 

s“What I have to go through to get on a plane is unbelievable,” Wilfong said. “Why are we not doing that in our schools?”

The topic of armed guards, metal detectors and arming teachers came up throughout the responses, but Edward Bergin, a major on the police force in Maryland, did not think that deciding the method of protecting schoolchildren was up to him.

“I don’t have an opinion on whether teachers should be armed or not,” Bergin said. “That’s up to you as a community to decide that.” 

The candidates all made it clear that they want to work as Fort Collins police chief. Swoboda talked to the level of community involvement in Fort Collins and identified the reason the position is so desirable for him. 

I don’t think there’s a place in this country, probably in this world, that can solve problems the way Fort Collins can.”– Jeffrey Swoboda, current police chief,
Elgin, Illinois

“I don’t think there’s a place in this country, probably in this world, that can solve problems the way Fort Collins can,” Swoboda said.

Collegian reporter Carson Lipe can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @CarsonLipe