Cheektowaga Police Chief Christine M. Ziemba has faced numerous challenges since being elevated to the position in 2002, making history as the town's first female police chief. Ziemba, who recently hired the town's first minority officer, discussed the police deparment.
Q: What has been the largest issue you have dealt with as chief?
A: For a chief, there are many issues going on, usually at the same time. My most difficult occurred within months of my taking over as chief and that was an on-duty death of one of my detectives in a car accident. We had been fortunate enough not to have suffered an in-line-of-duty death since 1977, when two of our officeres were killed. In addition to the difficulty of responding to the scene, being at the hospital, notifying the officer's wife of his passing and supporting her, there also was taking the department through the funeral. The majority of our officers had gone through some funerals for other departments, but they hadn't had one of their colleagues here taken in such a sudden and violent way. I'm very proud of the way that we were able to get through that extremely difficult time.
The largest issue facing most chiefs today is adjusting the department's focus to include new concerns such as homeland security, changing crime patterns and school issues while not losing focus on traditional police concerns such as burglaries, robberies and traffic issues.
Q: Is there any possibility of sharing costs or police services with neighboring towns?
A: Certainly, I think every chief is aware of the cost of doing business and is constantly looking for ways to be more efficient and more effective. We're certainly cognizant that policing the way it's done today is not the same way it was done 20, even 10 years ago. And that it has evolved. I think we're going to see the way policing is done change, again, in the next five, 10, 20 years. I think you'll see increased dialogue between various departments, taking a look, perhaps, at some of the big-ticket items and working collaboratively on some highly-specialized units. Not every department can afford top-notch equipment, or be able to afford the training. The Cheektowaga Police Department has collaborated with fellow departments.
Q: What kind of effort are you making to recruit more minority and women officers?
A: This is something I started as a project prior to making chief. We did a strong recruitment effort for both the 2001 and 2004 tests. We had posters in places where we thought people would see them, signs on bus routes through town. We've gone to locations we think people who meet our criteria will frequent. We've been to libraries, area colleges, military recruiting areas, and gyms because physical fitness is a requirement. We have done extensive mailings, we've worked with an ad agency that was able to obtain a database that included ages and college education, and we've gone to college open houses and college and high school career days. We've worked with the faith-based community, reaching out to the minority churches in town, and with the minority community in the city.
Q: Has crime changed since you've been in the department?
A: The types of crime are becoming more violent and dangerous to our officers. In the past couple of years, we've seen a higher incidence of drugs on the street, number of guns. Most offenders are either known to the victims, or perhaps in the neighborhood. We're dealing with a changing society and a lack of respect for authority. There seems to be a poor respect for other people and their rights. These are, perhaps, society issues.