Last month I sat in on an interesting presentation by Police Chief Ken Burton and his top aides.

For the first time in my memory, the chief wanted to talk about changes the department was making and challenges it faces.

A major point Chief Burton wanted to make, and did make several times, was the urgent need for more officers to serve our growing city.

With an authorized strength of 165 sworn officers and a 5 percent vacancy rate, the department is short about 50 officers, he said.

He also talked about two changes that seem to be reflected, in different ways, in the current controversy that is swirling around the chief, his department, his critics and his bosses.

In June, Chief Burton looked and sounded like a leader confident of his position and ready to meet the challenges ahead. In July, he appears to be afraid of being fired and trying to negotiate a buy-out.

He was responding to the heated exchange between the chief and angry citizens.

He might well have been referring to the whole issue of how best to staff and lead a department whose officers are sworn to protect and serve a diverse and dissatisfied community.

I left phone messages Thursday morning with the mayor, the chief and the city manager.

George Kennedy