As Newton tries to find a new police chief after a series of embarrassing scandals in the department, some city officials are urging the search committee to look seriously at external candidates who can help restore the agency.
But it’s unclear whether that will be an option, since the application process closed Friday and Mayor Setti Warren said he wants to initially limit the search to members of the Newton Police Department.
“I believe we have a good pool of candidates internally,” Warren said. If the search process doesn’t find the “appropriate person, I’ll open it up to the outside,” he said.
Newton, a city of nearly 85,000 residents, has usually promoted a police chief from within the department’s ranks. The last two searches were geared toward internal candidates. And the city’s one experiment with an outsider, Jose Cordero, a veteran of the New York City police force, ended abruptly in 2005 after his methods rankled both officers and residents.
Newton’s experiences shouldn’t dictate the city’s current search, said Alderwoman Ruthanne Fuller.
“In my mind it’s really important to look at internal and external candidates, and not restrict ourselves to only internal candidates,” Fuller said.
Alderman John Harney, who is vice chairman of the Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety and Transportation Committee, said he wants to make sure the city picks the best candidate, and he believes there are several impressive internal options.
Still, he said, “everything should be on the table.”
Harney said he wasn’t happy about Cordero’s hiring nearly a decade ago, but “certainly there were issues with the most recent chief, and that was chosen internally.”
Matthew Cummings had worked in the Police Department for more than 30 years, including three as its chief, when he was fired in October for unbecoming behavior.
The city put together a search committee last week made up of local residents, police union representatives, a lawyer, a retired judge, a business leader, and an alderman. The Board of Aldermen is scheduled to vote on the committee’s roster on Jan. 22.
The committee will review the applicants and recommend five to seven candidates to the mayor, according to the city’s long-established guidelines. Interim Police Chief Howard Mintz, whom the mayor appointed to fill in for Cummings, has applied for the job.
“The city, through the committee, will determine the best process for internal or external candidates,” said Dolores Hamilton, Newton’s human resources director, in an e-mail.
Some committee members expressed wariness about hiring from the outside.
“We’ve gone out before and there was a lot of turmoil,” said Alderman Allan Ciccone Jr., who has been named to the search committee.
During his tenure in Newton, Cordero was praised for reducing crime statistics, but he clashed with the rank-and-file for insisting that the officers automatically give tickets, rather than warnings, to drivers who committed motor vehicle violations. He also irked some parents, who complained that their teens were harassed for minor infractions. Cordero left Newton halfway through his five-year contract.
The chief needs to know the personalities of each of Newton’s villages and the city’s culture, said Eddie LaValle, the president of the Newton Police Association and a member of the search panel.
Many of the city’s police officers have roots in Newton, and would be preferable to an outside candidate, LaValle said. “I don’t believe you can replace ‘the Newton experience,’ ” he wrote n an e-mail.
“It’s a unique and diverse city that we feel is best lead [sic] by the people who know it the best and love it the most.”
Still, recent controversies have put a spotlight on the Police Department’s culture.
Last month, five officers were disciplined for pelting a sergeant’s house with eggs while off duty. At least one of the officers was reportedly drunk. The officers, who have not been identified, have said they were just playing a friendly prank.
Cummings was fired in October after he was accused of making offensive remarks to female employees, including his former secretary. She has been charged with larceny in the theft of $600 from the department. She has pleaded not guilty.
Alderman Scott Lennon said he prefers hiring internally to reward employees who keep excelling and go after leadership positions, and noted that even candidates from inside the department can make needed changes.
“I think there’s an opportunity, a real opportunity, to clean things up, and they have to prove to the search committee that they have a vision,” Lennon said.
Alderwoman Greer Tan Swiston said the Police Department has plenty of professional and talented employees, but they have been the focus of unwelcome attention in recent months.
“Whoever is the new police chief is going to have their work cut out for them,” Swiston said. “They’re going to be walking into a pretty stressed environment.”