Policy limits pool for top cop in Tempe
By Garin Groff, Nick Martin and Christian Richardson
October 26, 2006
The list of candidates for Tempe’s top cop couldn’t be any shorter — there’s just one person on it. That choice was somewhat deliberate because the city blocked cops from outside its police force from applying.
Only Tempe’s Assistant Police Chief Tom Ryff applied for the post, which he could assume by next month.
The insider approach to filling the job has concerned some Tempe officials who fear the city is shortchanging itself, or at least creating suspicion of that.
“A lot of people are going to think ‘good-old-boy system,’ and I don’t want anybody to think that’s how he got his job,” City Councilwoman Barb Carter said.
Carter, who has known Ryff for years, said he’s well-qualified and would make a good chief. But she and Councilman Ben Arredondo said the city should reconsider its longstanding policy of hiring from within and conducting a wider search only if no current city employees are interested or qualified.
She added, though, “I hope people aren’t thinking Tom isn’t the best choice because he’s the only choice. I would hate for him to take over with that in mind.”
Tempe’s policy is unusual in the Valley. Most cities conduct nationwide searches when picking a police chief or other top official. It’s probably too late to change the policy for this choice, but Arredondo said he wants to review the practice soon.
Given how large Tempe has become, “I don’t know that it’s a fair policy,” he said.
Following a public forum Wednesday night at City Hall, Ryff said Tempe “maintains the highest standard in the selection process” and he supports the practice.
In fact, should he be selected chief, Ryff himself will have to deal with the selection process almost immediately.
The department’s two other assistant chiefs have announced they’re stepping down soon. Dave Lind’s last day of work is Nov. 8 and Laura Forbes will be leaving in 2007. Neither resignation is believed to be related to Ryff’s likely promotion.
Ryff also would have to replace his own vacated position, completing a full changeover of the department’s top spots within the next year.
“I would think that the policy that we’re going to adhere to is the same as I’m going through,” Ryff said.
During the forum — his first public comments since applying — Ryff touted his résumé and experience: 27 years on the force, including work with patrol, narcotics, undercover, homicide, sex crimes, traffic and the city jail.
He also said that as a 40-year resident of the city, he would make working with neighborhood and citizens groups his top priority. Current Chief Ralph Tranter has built a foundation of community involvement, Ryff said, and he will continue to build on that.
“I’ve been a good follower. I’ve been a good student. In fact, I was a training officer on the undercover beat with (Tranter), if that tells you how far back it goes,” Ryff told the audience of about 30 people.
Ryff also addressed concerns within the city and department.
Tempe is growing up, not out, and Ryff said he plans to work with the designers of the city’s impending highrises to make sure they are safe for residents and police.
Ryff also wants more officers.
“We have the financial capital to get the bodies,” he said. “We just have a hard time recruiting.” He pointed out, however, many Valley cities are facing the same problem.
The police chief decision is in the hands of City Manager Will Manley, who said he will decide on Ryff by Monday. Manley said he likes to promote from within to show the best employees they can advance professionally by staying with the city.
Tranter plans to stay on board for a year. He retires Dec. 31 but will work as a consultant to his replacement, and still receive his annual pay of 5,237. The new chief will earn at least 6,264.
Bryan Hall, president of the Tempe Officers Association, said the group’s 275 members support Ryff.
Contact Garin Groff by email, or phone (480) 898-5938.
Contact Nick Martin by email, or phone (480) 898-6380.
Contact Christian Richardson by email, or phone (480) 898-6446.