OTTUMWA — Ottumwa's mayor knows the next police chief will be a good one even though he doesn't know which police officer it will be.
"We've got three excellent candidates," said Mayor Frank Flanders. "Regardless of who gets the job, we're going to come out of this with a very good chief."
Still, he said at a public meet and greet Thursday, he's hoping the Ottumwa City Council will choose the best of the three. Jeff Jirak, Tom McAndrew and Lawrence McNaul were the candidates.
The men, all currently serving as law enforcement officials in Iowa, introduced themselves, then interacted with the public.
McNaul is from Grinnell. He's served as a police sergeant with the Grinnell Police Department. He was then hired as chief deputy for the Poweshiek County Sheriff's Office, a position he held for years. Though still a deputy with supervisory responsibility, a newly elected sheriff brought in his own right-hand man. Yet even during the election, McNaul chose to remain neutral, he told the Courier, and stayed focused on the job, not politics.
That's not what got him interested in becoming a police chief. The Bronze Star recipient is a veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the military, he worked as an intelligence officer. In the civilian world, his goal is becoming a police chief.
"But we're very selective," he said of the applications he sends out. "I want to find a community that's right for us."
He and his wife like Ottumwa, he said, and have seen the potential for growth.
"We want to be a part of that," he said.
McAndrew has worked for the Ottumwa Police Department for 24 years and has served as lieutenant for the last five years. He stepped in as interim police chief when former chief Jim Clark retired in February. He is ready to take on the role of chief full time — especially now.
"We have the best department I've seen in 25 years of doing this," McAndrew told the Courier. "We have the best [people] and a strong command staff."
He likes working with those leaders, deciding on the direction the department needs to go, choosing a goal with their assistance and then driving toward that goal. Right now, long-term strategies are difficult to decide on, he said. The department is currently short-handed. He had been Ottumwa's chief detective and supervisor of the anti-drug task force. He's added patrol commander and police chief to his responsibilities.
"It'll be nice to have a chief, whoever it is," he said.
If it's him, he wants to maintain the Ottumwa Police Department as a place that's rewarding to work at and where employees like coming to their job.
But if the city hired one of the other two? He's met them, he said, and after speaking with them, feels they'd be good chiefs, too. If one of them was appointed, they'll have good officers and a good, loyal command staff — which will include McAndrews himself, he said.
Jirak is a lieutenant with the Muscatine Police Department. He is also chief of the Nichols Police Department.
When he arrives in Ottumwa, he said, there's something very familiar to him: the demographics, the diversity, the community itself reminds him of Muscatine. It feels like home, he said. In fact, both communities face many of the same problems.
"The community is always first," he said Thursday.
That's why, to do his job, he feels a team approach is most effective. And that does not mean just a team of police officers — he will work with community leaders from the Hispanic population, from the faith community, business people and city department heads to solve problems. He'll be a member of that team. His style of "problem-related policing" requires an officer who has the ability to speak to all of those varied people and more.
Ottumwa is already a good place, but Jirak feels he could be part of improving that good place, bringing it to a new level. Some of the problems being experienced in Ottumwa right now, he said, have afflicted Muscatine for years. They've learned to deal with challenges from a changing population leading to more diversity than they'd had in the past. They have also had to work on drug and gang problems. The MPD didn't do everything perfectly, he said, but they did learn from their mistakes and improved. That experience, of strategies that work, is part of what he'd bring to Ottumwa as chief, he said.
The council will meet the candidates, then formalize the appointment of the new chief at a future meeting.
To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark