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Monday, March 24, 2008

Who are the police chief candidates? Good luck finding out

You can ask, but nobody is telling

By William Kaempffer
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— And the finalists for the police chief’s job are?
“We’re doing well in the process” was the refrain from city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts when asked where the selection process stood to replace Chief Francisco Ortiz Jr., who is leaving the department to take a job with Yale University.
Has the field of 30-or-so applicants — so far still none from inside the department — been narrowed? Has he interviewed any candidates to date? Any truth to the candidates’ names swirling around the Police Department?
Talk around the department is that a female from the New York Police Department and a male from Washington, D.C.’s, department are strong candidates.
“We’re doing well in the process,” was Smuts’ response.
The city administration has been unusually closemouthed about the effort, saying little about progress or identities of candidates. The target date for appointing the next chief remains at the end April, Smuts said.
The last time around, when Mayor John DeStefano Jr. ultimately chose Ortiz, the city had a more open process, establishing a search committee and publicly naming the six top candidates, four from outside the city. This time, there’s no intention to do that, and even well-placed people in the city say they, at least so far, don’t know who’s in the running.
The Police Executive Research Forum, a national policing organization, is conducting the national search.
“I’ve seen nothing,” said Richard Epstein, chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners, a civilian board that oversees the department. “We hired a firm to do the search. I’m cognizant that it’s difficult to find the right individual and I’m cognizant of the difficultly of finding the right individual who is willing to come to New Haven.
“I would think as we get to the finalists we’ll have some involvement,” he said.
Alderman Alex Rhodeen, D-13, the head of the aldermanic Public Safety Committee, said he feels “pretty clued in about the process” but likewise didn’t know who is in the running.
Like Epstein, he said, “Certainly my expectation is once they’re down to a smaller list that my colleagues and I will be updated on who they’re looking at. At the same time, everyone recognizes that ultimately, this is the mayor’s call.”
Smuts said that he is the only point of contact between the city and PERF and the only person he apprises is his boss, DeStefano.
“There doesn’t seem to be a community component in the hiring process,” said Alderman Alphonse Paolillo Jr., D-17, another member of the Public Safety Committee, with a level of annoyance. “It seems almost as if the process and the information is highly classified at this point. Hopefully, I will get invited to the press conference when the next chief is announced.”
Under the charter, DeStefano has sole discretion of whom to choose, with certain restrictions. The charter, for instance, sets minimum thresholds. To be eligible, a candidate must have earned a bachelor’s degree, have worked in a department with more than 200 employees in a community with a population of more than 100,000 residents, and have at least five years of supervising other police supervisors.
Out of respect to the candidates, the city doesn’t plan to identify anyone except the one who is offered the job, Smuts said. PERF is providing much of the vetting work done in the past by a selection committee.
And Smuts disagreed with the notion that there isn’t one in this case.
“Sure there’s a selection committee,” he said. “The mayor is the selection committee.”
William Kaempffer can be reached at wkaempffer@nhregister.com.

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