Nome residents will likely have the opportunity to be a part of the interview process to select their new Chief of Police.

“All the candidates have agreed to be interviewed in public. It’s open meetings.”

– Glenn Steckman

Nome City Manager Glenn Steckman spoke with the Public Safety Advisory Commission last Saturday [February 22nd]. In a push for transparency, the commission conducted the first round of interviews in an open meeting. There are now three finalists for the Chief of Police position, out of the initial five. Steckman announced the current plan and three finalists’ names during a Nome City Council meeting on February 24th: Jennifer Shockley, Dr. Joel Fitzgerald, and Acting Nome Police Chief Mike Heintzelman.

Steckman then shared that the Commission plans to invite the public in for an interview of the final candidates at a date and time to be determined.

The initial interviews consisted of 18 questions designed by the advisory commission and the City Manager. Public Safety Advisory Commissioners wanted to know what experience police chief candidates had handling sexual assault and domestic abuse cases, and how they planned to restore public trust in the Nome Police Department. Candidates were also questioned about their experience working with culturally and socio-economically diverse populations.

Two of the candidates, Shockley and Heintzelman, have Alaska policing experience.  Shockley served the Unalaska Department of Public Safety from 1998-2019, beginning as a police officer and working up to Deputy Chief of Police and Acting Director. She resigned from the force in 2019, after serving as acting Director of Public Safety for nearly a year, citing a “lack of opportunity for professional development” as her reason for leaving.

Joel Fitzgerald worked as Police Chief in Fort Worth, TX, a city of over 700,00 people, but was reportedly fired in May 2019 over a “heated incident” at an awards ceremony, in addition to budgetary problems, and concerns about Fitzgerald’s relationship with the community.

In his resume, Fitzgerald claims success in creating community policing programs in “racially polarized” areas and was reportedly Fort Worth’s first African American police chief.

And the final candidate is current interim Nome Police Chief Mike Heintzelman, who was originally brought to the force in October 2018 as an investigator by former Police Chief Bob Estes. Before coming to Nome, Heintzelman worked in policing in Virginia for over thirty years.

As this is a new hiring process for Nome, following Chief Estes’ departure in November, Steckman extended the invitation to the City Council to be more involved with the final review. But Councilmember Doug Johnson didn’t feel that the Council needed to be involved further in the review process.

“In my view if the committee has come up with a candidate that is acceptable to you then I’m going to go with that. The Public Safety [Advisory] Committee is the representative of the Council.”

– Doug Johnson

Other Councilmembers agreed that an additional formal interview for the Chief of Police may be excessive. Ultimately, the Council will vote on approving the contract for whomever is selected as the new police chief.

Manager Steckman says he would like the candidates to come up to Nome for a public meeting and interview sometime after the Iditarod sled dog race.

Image at top: Members of the Nome Public Safety Advisory Commission scrutinize interview questions for the Chief of Police candidates. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2020).