The city of Reno has been without a permanent police chief since April, despite hiring a national search firm to launch a $22,000 search for candidates to fill the job.
Colorado Springs-based KRW Associates, which has been paid about $7,400 so far, is still gathering community input on the desired characteristics for the city’s next police chief. It hasn’t begun recruiting actual candidates yet.
Meanwhile, Reno’s interim Chief Jason Soto is winning high praise from council members and community groups alike. And although Soto said in May that he wouldn’t seek the permanent job, he has changed his mind.
“I’m in a position now where I know I’ve had a positive effect for the police department and the community,” Soto said. “I do have a lot of support from council, incredible support from my staff, both civilian and sworn, and more support from the community than I knew existed prior to taking this position.”
Council members and City Manager Andrew Clinger speak highly of Soto’s performance, saying he’s accessible and has worked in partnership with the community.
The problem? Soto doesn’t meet any of the minimum qualifications required by Reno Municipal Code.
Soto, who was a detective and president of the Reno Police Protective Association when he was tapped to be interim chief, doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree, five years of management experience or a management certificate from the Peace Officers Standards and Training commission.
The council could still hire him as chief, but it likely would have to take the politically unpalatable step of changing city ordinance to lower the minimum qualifications. At this point, despite Soto’s stellar performance, there doesn’t appear to be enough of an appetite to do that.
“Chief Soto is doing a great job,” Councilman Oscar Delgado said. “He’s accessible. He’s proactive. He’s a progressive thinker. And knowing that we don’t have everything perfect in Reno, he’s always looking for dynamic new ways to approach things.
“But, no, I’m not willing to lower the MQ’s.”
Councilwoman Neoma Jardon echoed Delgado’s sentiments on Soto’s performance.
“He has done a tremendous job when it comes to engaging with the community, and really breaking down some of the perceived barriers out there between community members and police in general,” she said. “I think he has done an incredible job.”
But Jardon also wouldn’t support lowering the city’s minimum qualifications.
“I do think a national search benefits the entire community ensuring we get the most qualified best person in that critically important position,” Jardon said.
Councilman Paul McKenzie, however, doesn’t believe the council would have to tinker with the minimum qualifications to hire Soto on permanently. He draws attention to the ordinance’s language, which allows for an “an equivalent combination of training, education and law enforcement experience” instead of a bachelor’s degree and five years in management.
Soto said he respects and understands the position taken by Delgado and Jardon.
“If they decide to go through a search then I will support them throughout that decision making process and make it as smooth a transition as I can,” he said.
But he’s not quite willing to give up, yet.
“If they would allow me to put my hat in the ring, then I would certainly do that,” he said. “I feel like it would have a positive effect for the community and the department and for the city.”