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In first-year lookback, chief cites outreach, 'hiring crisis'

Hendersonville Police Chief Blair Myhand takes pride that his department has made progress in community relations, helped clean up what neighbors regarded as an open-air drug market, moved into a sparkling new headquarters and even donned smart new navy blue uniforms in the past year.

His biggest challenge remains finding enough applicants to fill those uniforms.
After a months-long search narrowed the field to two finalists, City Manager John Connet chose Myhand, a U.S. Army combat veteran of the Afghanistan war who had risen to become police chief in Clayton.
In a first anniversary interview, Myhand assessed the year as a success in many ways. He’s made the policy changes he identified as needed, developed relationships with other law enforcement leaders in the area, received input and guidance from minority leaders and spoke to numerous groups about the organization.
“My transition here has been much easier than I thought it might be,” he said. “The department has really welcomed me and allowed me to do things. The city manager has really given me the freedom to observe rather than act. I’ve not felt any pressure from the manager or from the council to do a lot of changes other the ones I felt needed to be changed. … Everybody’s been very receptive and open to new ideas.”

Sweep cleans up Green Meadows

Just two months after he took the oath as chief, Myhand and his officers joined seven other agencies in a roundup of suspects who were alleged to be dealing drugs in the Green Meadows community in the Historic Seventh Avenue District.
“It was a way to give the neighborhood back to the lawful residents,” he said.
Sheriff Lowell Griffin has said publicly that the cooperation with the Hendersonville police force has never been better. The city P.D. has assigned one detective to the Henderson County Drug Task Force, which the sheriff’s office leads. Cops from local, state and federal agencies arrested 18 people on that day in May.
“Before the roundup, if you will, we had a lot of complaints about loitering, drug sales, shootings and since then the complaints that I get from residents are speeding, stop signs,” Myhand said. “I see that as a win, a big change in what they’re complaining about in their neighborhood versus what they complained about before. What I hope from this is that we change the mindset of buyers who would drive into Hendersonville and drive down to Green Meadows with the anticipation that this is where we go to buy drugs. I want to change that mindset: this is no longer a market.”

Community outreach

Myhand would rather make innovations to prevent crime than arrest criminals. He’s been as much a listener for that reason.
“One of the big things is we’ve started our community advisory group,” he said. The members “help inform me on how I can best serve the needs of the community. I think we’re really gaining some ground on that.”
The department has ramped up community outreach in other ways, too, reviving the National Night Out event for the first time in many years and hosting coffee with a cop. Although the community group has a diverse makeup, Myhand would like to add high school kids and more Latino representation. It has neither of those now.
Changes he’s made to “the way we do our jobs here” cover everything from the new station to new uniforms. When he arrived, Myhand found that the outfits officers wore were not, in fact, uniform.
“When I came here the staff sort of joked that they didn’t have a uniform, they had work clothes,” he said. “I’m much more of a traditionalist when it comes to police work and I think the uniform is important in appearance and the way you carry yourself.”
He’s grateful that the City Council made an even bigger investment when it authorized the new $12 million police headquarters on Ashe Street, which opened in November.
“What I hope is that officers take pride in the way they look, and the building they operate out of and the equipment they have and that starts building more esprit de corps,” he said. “They made a major investment in us and we owe it to the city and the taxpayers to return that in kind through our professionalism. Based on the feedback I get from residents, I think that’s happening because I get far more positive (feedback) about officers than I do negative.”

Recruitment is biggest challenge

The precipitous drop in applicants for police openings is the toughest part of many police administrators’ job these days, and Hendersonville is no exception.
“I think the biggest challenge is leading through the hiring crisis that we’re having here,” he said. “Recruitment and retention are both challenges for us. We lost several officers when Chief Blake left and we have struggled to recruit and hire more people. I’m happy to say we have less than 10 percent (vacant). Most places have 10 percent or more. Leading this profession beyond this crisis is going to take a concerted effort” against a negative perception of police fueled by some activists.

A big reason young people won’t apply, Myhand said, is they fear an honest mistake in carrying out their job could land them in jail.
“Now I think there’s a perception and sometimes a reality that officers are charged criminally” and not supported by the superiors or elected leaders when something goes wrong, Myhand said. “I’m not talking the extreme. I’m not talking Derek Chauvis, those guys — that wasn’t a mistake.”
A candidate these days thinks twice about pursuing a law enforcement career because “if I’m doing my job and it goes poorly I’m going to be sacrificed for the greater good.” They end up deciding, “I can accept these other risks” including getting hurt or killed on the job —but “this is not a risk that I want to accept. And you don’t pay me a whole lot of money, and I’ve gotta work overnight and at Christmas and it’s 25 degrees outside and you add all those things up and it just doesn’t become something that people want to do. It’ll take five to 10 years to really get beyond this.”
“Property crime and traffic crashes” are the biggest problems police respond to, which he points out is better than “an inflated homicide rate or robberies.’”
The chief and his wife have settled in to their home with their old collie, Bo, and a new collie puppy, Jack.
“Living here in Hendersonville is pretty great,” he said. “I really appreciate the opportunity that John Connet gave me, that the council gave me to do this job and I hope that over the last year that I have demonstrated to people my ethics, my integrity and my competency in being able to lead this agency moving forward.”