PORTLAND – Whenever Portland fills a position as important as chief of police, it must exercise due diligence toward hiring the best person for the job. But sometimes the emphasis should be placed on the word “due.”

City Hall’s decision to advertise nationally to fill the position of chief of police — and to pay up to $15,000 for a new qualifying exam — represents over-diligence. Portland has several excellent candidates for police chief within the current ranks of superior officers and command staff.

We have a new city manager, a new city clerk and a new mayor coming in. So City Hall already has a great deal of turnover and rope-learning to manage in the next year. Yet, with our budget strained to breaking, we want a nationwide search in addition to weighing internal candidates.

This is a waste of money and staff time. The city officials to be assigned the task have better uses of their time in addressing real and growing problems before us, such as faster permitting for construction projects and businesses; renovating schools; strategizing social services; and taking steps to eliminate the possibility of a property tax increase.

Thus, it seems the effort to gather a broad field of candidates from across the country, then to interview and reduce that group to a set of finalists, is not time or taxes well-spent. We have great candidates already in our police department.

Indeed, two years ago there were many in the community who believed we had to look no farther than the high-ranking officers who applied for the job then. The same is true today.

We cannot afford — and do not need — to spend $15,000 for a consultant to prepare a test of tactical skills and high-level decision-making. The department’s superior officers who will apply have those skills, and we already know it. (Their status was determined by four experts named Michael Chitwood, Tim Burton, Joseph Loughlin and James Craig.)

That is why they are already invested with the duties and trust they bear here in Portland every day.

The $15,000 can be better spent on other things. For instance, we should have digital cameras in the Council Chambers and committee rooms so meeting video can be streamed and downloaded. That way, the public can stay on top of the city’s business better. Or we could fund a part-time webmaster to once and for all bring the city’s website into the 21st century and keep it there. Or it could help pay for heavy-item trash collection twice a year.

In terms of what Portland needs in a police chief, not much has changed in the two years since Chief Craig’s hiring. The interview questions cannot have evolved much.

The administrative skills and community vision required have not greatly changed, such that an internal candidate could not meet them. Our commanders and assistant chiefs are top notch; they would ace any consultant’s test that is fitted to our specific needs.

Nor has much changed in terms of how Portland should go about hiring the next chief. In 2009, a panel of citizens and city officials prepared interview questions from public input, and ran the interviews to select finalists. Then the city manager and one citizen advocate interviewed the finalists.

I believe we simply do not need to draw up an expensive 2011 edition of the 2009 process. Why waste money on a consultant’s diagnosis of known, measurable qualities all of our internal candidates possess?

Yes, internal candidates will have home-grown advantages over outside candidates. And we should be glad of it! But do we need to prevent an appearance of favoritism? Thankfully, city politics are not enmeshed with police operations, as in some other cities. Cronyism is not a problem in Portland law enforcement, or in how the department maintains the support it needs from City Hall.

Union issues play a major role in our department’s operations and staffing. Therefore, would any external candidates be better versed in presenting a responsible police budget to the City Council? Would candidates from outside Maine have better-developed ideas on working with new immigrant communities in Portland? Is a police official from away better positioned to work on drug and weapons interdiction with Maine’s sheriffs, or the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, than one who has been doing so in our department for years?

Due diligence is always necessary in making smart decisions for the welfare of a community. But smart decisions don’t result from over-complicated and prolonged processes. We have excellent candidates wearing Portland’s uniform.

In fact — based on their knowledge of our department and community, I strongly believe they are the very best candidates who would emerge from a national search, anyway.

Due diligence in finding a chief of police means deciding which of them to promote.

– Special to the Press Herald