Residents had a long list of requests for the qualities and qualifications they would like Watertown’s next Police Chief to have, and new initiatives they would like the new head of the WPD to take on.
Monday night, City Manager George Proakis held a community forum to discuss the hiring of the new Watertown Police Chief. He was joined by two members of the consultancy firm who will run the process of evaluating the candidates.
Attendees brought up a variety of areas they would like to see the next chief take on, including changes in the department.
Several wanted to see the Watertown Police be more transparent, and provide more data to the public, including arrests, traffic violations, and other incidents broken down by race, ethnicity and gender. Many came from the group that made a similar request in 2021.
The parents of two young Watertown Police officers said they worry about the safety of police when they take people into custody or do traffic stops, and want someone who knows about what patrol officers face on the street and who is looking out for them.
Others brought up the sexual discrimination lawsuit by a female detective in which a jury ruled against the Watertown Police Department. They wanted to make sure the same thing does not occur again, and that the department be a place where all feel welcome.
A resident wanted to see a focus on repeat offenders, such as shoplifters, and also work with the District Attorney’s office to make sure they are prosecuted for their offenses.
Some wanted to see the next chief be more engaged with the community, with particular focus on making people from groups that may feel fearful or uncomfortable with police feel like they can go to police when they need them.
The applicants for Watertown Police Chief will have to go through an assessment center, in which they will have to react to real world situations and talk about how they handle issues they will likely face as chief.
The consulting firm of Parow Consulting & Associates will create and administer the assessment center. To help create the scenarios that will be in the assessment center, the consultants are interviewing all the Watertown police officers.
“We interviewed the entire uniformed staff to get a better at better idea of what they want to see moving forward, what’s working well, what’s not working well,” said Jack Parow, founder and principal of Parow Consulting.
The assessment center will also include issues raised by the community. Parow said the consultants already planned to incorporate many of the issues discussed Monday night, and added that every police and fire chief assessment center in recent years includes human resources issues, relationship between the department and the community, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The assessment center will be conducted by former and current chiefs, said Ken Lavallee, the former Police Superintendent in Lowell, who is a consultant for Parow. Proakis added that he and Lavallee worked in Lowell at the same time prior to Proakis taking the job in Somerville.
“We have a diverse group of assessors,” Parow said. “They are not all white males.”
Former Police Chief John Jackson shared his experience taking an assessment center.
“It is not a walk in the park,” Jackson said. “Every assessment center is different based on the community. It will cover all your concerns — most of them, at least.”
Public Safety chief searches can be done either through Civil Service, which would limit the candidates to internal ones, or can be opened to anyone. City Manager George Proakis said that he is leaning toward going the Civil Services route.
Looking at the experience, knowledge and training that members of the Watertown Police, Proakis said he believes there are qualified candidates to choose from within the Watertown Police.
“The intent is to stay with internal candidates but if you think opening it up is a good idea tell me tonight,” Prokis said.
Internal or Open Search
If it is a Civil Services process, the candidate pool will essentially be the two captains and six lieutenants in the Watertown Police, Parow said.
Parow said that when a search opens to outside candidates it can be hard for those in the department without experience as a chief to compete. Provisional Chief Thomas Rocca told Proakis that he intends to retire when the new chief is appointed, so he is not in the running, and no one else on the WPD had experience as a chief.
“If you have good quality captains and lieutenants, when an outside chief from another department applies it is difficult (captains and lieutenants) to compete with them,” Parow said. “It is difficult for your shining star who knows the community.”
Opening up the search would mean that anyone from around the state and the nation could apply, which would also make the process longer.
“If 200 people from across the country apply, all 200 would take the assessment center,” Parow said.
After the candidates complete the assessment center, the results will be sent to Mass. Civil Service, which will add any points for additional qualifications such as being a United States military veteran or having 25 years or more experience, Parow said.
The list will be released on the Civil Service website, and Proakis will be presented with the candidates with the top three scores. He and Deputy City Manager Emily Monea will interview the finalists, and Proakis will make the final choice. He noted that while he has not had previous experience hiring a police chief, Monea has done so during her time as chief of staff for the Mayor of Somerville.
Proakis said he hoped to appoint the next chief by the end of September, but it may go a couple weeks longer. At the next City Council meeting he will request a referral to the Public Safety Committee for the discussion of the Police Chief position. The assessment center will take place in September, and the list of finalists will probably take 20-30 days to be published so it could be in October. The top three will be interviewed and then Proakis will make and appointment.
If the top scoring candidate is not chosen, Proakis said he would have to provide a statement why he did not select the person or people who were ranked above his selection.
Proakis invited people who could not attend the forum to submit questions and comments to him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.