MERIDEN — The next police chief should live in the city, come from within the Meriden Police Department and be a strong advocate for community policing, members of the public told a search committee recently.
On Wednesday night, about a half-dozen speakers provided input to the Police Chief Search Committee before it drafts a final job description.
Internal vs. external
“I hope someone doesn’t make the mistake of putting in someone from the outside,” said former Police Chief Robert Kosienski. “If an outsider comes in the department is stagnant.”
Kosienski, who served as chief for 16 years, recalled two instances when outsiders were hired.
“...the department went to hell in plain English,” he said. “It was sad, it took a long time to clear the mess up.”
Kosienski argued that hiring from within would generate upward mobility among the current ranks.
“These guys know the department, these guys know the city,” he said. “Give them a chance.”
The search committee is tasked with replacing Chief Jeffry Cossette, who is planning to leave in August. The panel hopes to have a replacement by July.
Council of Neighborhoods President Holly Wills suggested the committee ask candidates about their “experience, visions, goals and objectives they have for community policing.”
Wills also stressed that neighborhood groups working with community police officers is the best way to prevent crime and blight.
Other residents asked that police chief candidates support patrol officers getting out of their cruisers and walking neighborhoods.
Maryellen Mordarski, president of Action 13 Neighborhood Association, wants the next chief to help change the perception of the city.
“Meriden is perceived as not a safe place,” Mordarski said. “We need to change that perception. I don’t think it’s that unsafe.”
Dan Zaborowski wants the next chief to be a resident of the city. Cossette, a Meriden native, lives in Wallingford.
“Live in Meriden, be part of the solution,” said Zaborowski, who ran unsuccessfully for the City Council as a Republican this past November.
City Manager Timothy Coon fielded questions from search committee members and Mayor Kevin Scarpati about the qualifications on the job description he drafted for the position.
Coon has 20 years’ experience in the management and training of police officers. He also researched communities in the state for language and qualifications.
Coon mentioned the pros and cons of a residency requirement. It increases empathy and understanding of a community, but it also shrinks the potential talent pool.
Scarpati told the audience that the residency decision should be addressed by the City Council and cover all department heads.
Scarpati asked if Coon’s suggestion that a candidate have 10 years experience as an officer and at least four years as a lieutenant or higher was realistic.
“My fear is putting in that specific language is going to limit those in-house candidates,” Scarpati said, adding that very few members of the Meriden Police Department meet those qualifications. “Knowing there is going to be interest, I don’t want them to get deterred from applying.”
Scarpati also questioned Coon’s request that the candidate have experience in all aspects of community policing.
Coon replied the broad requirement allows the candidate to discuss what he or she defines as community policing.
The salary range from $120,000 and $135,000 was also discussed. Search Committee Chairman Michael Cardona, also a city councilor, asked that city Human Resources Director Robert Scalise and Coon compile a comparison of salaries in similar municipalities.
City Councilor Miguel Castro asked what the city was planning to do to encourage racial and ethnic diversity in the candidate pool. Scalise said that, in addition to the city’s web site and statewide police association websites, the city would post the job with international associations aimed at minorities.
Cardona asked committee members to deliver other suggestions and concerns to him within a week. Those will be passed to Coon and Scalise.
The Police Chief Search Committee is scheduled to meet again on Feb. 26 to review the job description before it is posted.