I enjoyed getting to know Interim Police Chief Shane Brandel better during a one-on-one conversation in my office at the Tribune recently. Brandel was appointed to the position by City Manager Scot Wrighton and began his duties on July 30 when Chief Jim Getz retired. Brandel was serving as deputy police chief before his interim appointment and Wrighton made a wise choice in selecting Brandel to step into the position. Getz did an outstanding job as chief and Brandel certainly has a solid background in education, experience and overall knowledge of the community and the Decatur Police Department where he has served for over 24 years.
I am not a fan of going outside the department to hire a police chief for Decatur and Brandel is an example of why I believe that way. The Decatur Police Department is not broken so there is no need for an outside hire, who knows nothing about Decatur, to come in and take charge.
Of course, there is always room for improvement in any public or private organization and a lot has evolved in always making the department more efficient over the years. In fact, Brandel said that some of the changes in law enforcement that legislation dictated recently had already been made in the Decatur Police Department before legislators even thought about it.
Brandel said the violence that is happening in Decatur, and in cities in Central Illinois, is different than it was years ago when police knew gang leaders and members and were able to keep a close eye on them. Today’s gang activity is much harder to combat because the gangs are small and many who are involved are not known to police. Brandel said that it is extremely difficult at this point to get citizens who know something about violent actions, and those who are commiting such crimes, to talk to the police about it. He indicated the department is working on some creative ways to counter some of the “no information from citizens” problem.
Brandel also indicated that social media, and the rumors that are spread that have no basis in the truth, work against the department. Brandel recently had to take the unusual step and release a statement regarding a damaging rumor about innocent people being vilified who were not even involved in any investigation.
• I KNOW Brandel has only been interim police chief for a couple of weeks but I also know that we are fortunate to have someone willing to assume that responsibily who is more than qualified in every aspect needed at this time in the city’s history, to lead the department. Like Chief Getz before him, Brandel rose through the ranks of the department, starting as a patrol officer; he is very knowledgeable about all operations and functions of the department.
When Wrighton announced that Brandel would be the interim police chief, he stated: “Shane brings vast local knowledge and broad law enforcement experience to this job and I am certain he is ready for this new assignment. I am grateful he has agreed to take this job at such a critical time. I am also looking forward to having Shane on the city’s senior management team, and working closely with him as we plan for and evaluate the future course of the Decatur Police Department.”
Brandel, 46, holds a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement and justice administration from Western Illinois University, and a master’s degree in criminal justice and criminology from Indiana State University. In addition, he is a graduate of the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command. He previously held one of two deputy police chief positions in the Decatur Police Department’s command structure. Of course, Brandel is a candidate for the permanent position of Police Chief.
Although the city manager indicated that the designation of “interim chief” will be used for several months “as the community is more fully introduced to Brandel, and as some changes are made to the department’s command structure,” I think it is important to fill the position of police chief as soon as is feasible considering what police departments are facing these days.
I am no longer mayor, but if I was I would encourage the city manager to remove the “interim” from Shane Brandel’s position and make him the next police chief in the near future. It was my opinion before we sat down and talked last week that he was the right person for the job — and our conversation about policing and his attitude and perspective on the community only reinforced my belief that Shane Brandel is the right person to lead our police department into the future.
• THE DECATUR City Council met in executive session Monday night to discuss, and possibly select, an applicant to replace former Councilman Rodney Walker, who resigned his position last month because of increasing conflicts between his role as councilman and business owner and developer. Walker was in his first term and the person selected will fill out the remainder of his term and then the seat will be up for election. As we are going to press there is no word if the council has made a decision on which person to select from the applications submitted.
The process in selecting a replacement is the decision of the council, but there are some who believe the process should be more transparent. (Councilman Bill Faber’s paid column on page 7 of the print edition addresses that subject and Faber gives his opinion on the process.)
Dennis Cooper, who is one of the applicants for the position, was present at the council meeting and addressed the council on his qualifications to serve during the public comment portion of the meeting. Also several of his supporters spoke to the council about the reasons that Cooper should be selected. Some believe that Marty Watkins who has been a candidate for council several times and finished in fourth place (the top three candidates were elected) should be chosen because he has expressed interest in serving on council through the election process. Both Cooper and Watkins are African-Americans and since there is not that minority presence on the council following the resignation of Walker, it is believed by some that an African-American should be chosen to fill the position.
• WITH SUCH a high percentage of unvaccinated residents in Macon County it is no surprise that we are among those listed by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention with a high level of transmission of COVID-19 With the rapidly spreading Delta variant of COVID, we certainly are in danger of heading back to lockdowns, isolation, business closings, rising unemployment, crowded ICUs, more sickness — and deaths. It is especially concerning how children are being affected. We certainly have the tools via vaccination to combat COVID’s destructive behavior, but it has become a political football that is thrown back and forth under the heading of “conspiracy” — and anyone who doesn’t share that opinion automatically becomes part of the “conspiracy”.
• I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at 7:00 for the City Hall Insider. I alway enjoy discussing the issues confronting our city and nation with Brian.