It was nearly a full house in the Town Council Chambers Wednesday, as officials and residents gathered to discuss what they’re looking for in their next police chief.
The Committee on Public Safety held a public meting to discuss the design of the assessment center that will be used to narrow down the pool of candidates for the new police chief, and to give residents and officials an opportunity weigh in on the process. Town Manager Michael Driscoll and Public Safety Consultants LLC, the firm hired to design the center, were in attendance to explain the process and hear what audiences members were looking for in their next chief.
Chief Wayne Sampson of Public Safety Consultants said that getting feedback was an important part of designing an assessment center unique to Watertown.
“Generally speaking, throughout Massachusetts the duties of a chief of police are generally the same, but there is some uniqueness in each community,” Sampson said. “And we find out what’s unique and what may be done here, or what may not be done so that we exclude those from any assessment center exercises.
“When we make it realistic for the candidates, we get a better performance from the candidate because they can buy into the process much better.”
The police chief position is a civil service position, and will be filled by one of the current six lieutenants and two captains who are eligible for the position, Driscoll said.
“What we’re doing is consistent with what we’ve done, and what the community’s done for quite some time,” Driscoll said.
Councilor Aaron Dushku said he’d like to see the police have more of a presence in the community outside of their cruisers.
“We had a resident come to a public forum once and speak about how she missed the old days when police used to be on bikes and used to come around and give out baseball cards to the kids in the neighborhoods,” Dushku said. “I thought that really stuck with me … I think that needs to be a regular part of police work in Watertown, where the police have these beats and they go on them everyday.”
Councilor Susan Falkoff said that the new chief create a culture of support for their officers.
“Police officers face incredibly difficult situations,” Falkoff said. “They face situations with guns pointed at them. They face situations of seeing people die often in horrible situations being the first to arrive at car accidents.
“I’m a mental health professional, [and] I think it’s very important that there be a culture in the Police Department where people on the force feel supported and not judged and evaluated. But supported, trained, and helped along with the very difficult things that they face.”
Council President Mark Sideris said that next police chief has to be prepared to be the face of the city during an emergency, as Chief Deveau was after the April 19, 2013 shootout with the Tsarnaev brothers.
“I want to make sure that, God forbid this ever happens here again, that this next police chief will be able to communicate with the citizens and communicate well,” Sideris said. “I think it’s very important and critical that we have an open line of communication when we have incidents, and when we don’t have incidents.”