Monday, June 16, 2008

City hires new chief for Ortiz’s unfilled term

Lewis has headed departments in large Wis., Calif. cities

By Bill Kaempffer
Register Staff
— A former big city police chief who led departments in Green Bay, Wis., and Pomona, Calif., will take the helm of the city’s 400-member police force, bringing experience in dealing with the kinds of problems faced here.
James Lewis, most recently chief in the small town of Grand Chute, Wis., a town of about 20,000 people, will be appointed chief, New Haven Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts said Sunday.
The unexpected announcement from Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s office comes just three weeks after the city’s last candidate declined the job on the eve of a formal appointment.
City officials said Lewis has experience in leading departments in cities with similar dynamics and challenges as New Haven. Pomona is a city of about 160,000 people in Los Angeles County. Green Bay has a population of approximately 100,000 people.
"He has experience in dealing with a lot of the things that we’re facing," Smuts said Sunday.
Lewis rose through the ranks in the Bakersfield, Calif., Police Department before leaving to lead the other departments.
The last large police department he headed was in Pomona, from which he retired in 2006. Like New Haven, the department coped with thin resources, a community reluctant to cooperate with investigations and residents frustrated with slow police response times, according to media accounts during Lewis’ tenure. He also pushed a community policing model similar to the one used in New Haven.
Last month, Mark Pawlina, the former acting chief in Hartford and current chief in Chatham, Mass., was set to accept the job, but turned it down at the last minute, citing family concerns.
Lewis will take over for retired Chief Francisco Ortiz Jr. and would assume his existing contract, which has about 18 months left. The short-term nature of the contract was a deal-breaker for Pawlina.
The finance committee of the Board of Alderman, meanwhile, approved changes to the executive management manual that would include a new defined benefit plan, similar to a 401(k), for top management and a severance package. The changes would still have to be approved by the full board, Smuts said.
Lewis considered but did not apply for the job when the Police Executive Research Forum, the nonprofit hired by the city to perform the search, advertised the position, Smuts said.
The city re-advertised the job after Palwina turned it down.
"I think he had considered applying before, but hadn’t pulled the trigger. When PERF went back and called through the leads that hadn’t quite materialized, he took a more careful look at New Haven and thought it would be a good fit," Smuts said.

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