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Newton police chief's report targets gender relations, discipline

Posted by Leslie Anderson  July 31, 2013 07:16 PM

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Newton Police Chief Howard Mintz, whose predecessor was fired after an investigator found he made insulting and inappropriate remarks to female employees, released a review of the city’s Police Department on Wednesday with suggestions on improving the department’s culture, gender relations and discipline.

“Unfortunately, in the past couple of years, we’ve had some problems in the chief’s office,” Mintz said in an interview with the Globe. “My predecessor was terminated. We’ve had officers being involved in some high-profile incidents that were embarrassing, not representative of our people.”

Still, Mintz's report, which did not directly address the past strife within the department, was not designed to evaluate what happened during former Chief Matthew Cummings’s tenure, Mintz said during the interview.

“I don’t think it’s my role to criticize, second-guess what went wrong,” he said. “I think what I was talking about is the here-and-now of the department.”

Mintz took over the department last year as interim chief and was named police chief earlier this year. He has been with the department for 29 years.

The chief's eight-page report listed his observations, conclusions and specific plans for various topics within the department. He started with culture/gender, the source of much of the turmoil in recent years.

“My goal is to make the Newton Police Department a welcoming workplace where all employees, regardless of cultural background or gender, can succeed,” he wrote.

He said he will create a focus group to review gender relations within the department. Mintz also said he will continue to consult with Interim Superintendent Deborah Friedl of the Lowell Police Department, who was part of the selection committee that helped choose him as Newton’s Police Chief.

Mintz declined to comment on the legal cases involving the department.

Newton Mayor Setti Warren praised the police chief for the report. Mintz had proposed investigating and writing the report as soon as he became chief, Warren said.

“I want to commend Chief Mintz for taking a thoughtful and thorough look at the department,” Warren said. ‘I think the chief has set a positive path for the department to follow.”

Warren said the report offers tangible ways that Mintz will move the department forward.
“I chose Chief Mintz because of his integrity, because of his professionalism,” Warren said. “He’s certainly led by example.”

Ted Hess-Mahan, a Newton alderman who is running against Warren for mayor this fall, said he thought Mintz’s report was a straightforward list of recommendations to improve the Police Department.

“I think it sounds like the chief did a thorough review and identified some action items around some needs for training and dealing with the culture of the Police Department as it relates to female officers and how they’re treated,” he said.

Hess-Mahan said he expected Mintz couldn’t talk more specifically about the
controversies of the past few years given the ongoing legal cases.

To improve discipline procedures in the department, Mintz wrote that he will form a committee to review discipline and recommend ways to make it more uniform. The department will also hire independent investigators in discipline matters when necessary, he wrote.

Mintz also observed in his report that Massachusetts ranks 47th in the country in per capita spending in police training per officer. This makes it hard for police departments like Newton’s to find police academy spots for candidates to fill department openings, he said.

Cummings was removed from his job abruptly last August after an investigation found that he made “boorish, disrespectful and insulting” remarks to female employees. The city had commissioned a report on Cummings and found his behavior insulting, including calling his former secretary a “bitch” and telling her, “I think you look like a whore.”

Mintz, who then headed the Police Department’s traffic division, was named interim chief.

Cummings was later fired for “conduct unbecoming” a police chief, and in March, Warren announced that Mintz would take over as chief.

Cummings has appealed his termination.

Mintz came into the job vowing to bring professionalism to the department. But he has inherited the remnants of the scandal.

After the secretary, Jeanne Sweeney Mooney, complained about Cummings’ remarks to her, she was accused of stealing cash and checks from the police station. She was acquitted of a charge of larceny over $250. But she argued that she was framed in retaliation for her complaints about Cummings.

In March, she filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, seeking $1.1 million in damages.

Kathy Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com.

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