In a publicly sparse City Council chambers Thursday night, three finalists for chief of police spent three grueling hours addressing questions from members of the City Council who must approve the five-year contract after Mayor Joe Ganim selects the next top cop, likely in November.
See City Council interview police chief finalists here.
This marathon, akin to a congressional hearing, was much more revealing than the first public vetting session Tuesday night at Central High School when the questions were generally sanitized. Thursday night the questions and responses were sharper edged with the finalists issuing subtle and pointed rejoinders in how they would handle overtime, deployment, morale, recruitment, patrols and post-midnight drinking establishments.
Clearly, one come-away that blazed is the frosty relationship between Acting Chief Rebeca Garcia and Captain Lonnie Blackwell, even if you don’t know the history. Garcia has marginalized Blackwell to effectively an administrative jockey away from commanding the nuts and bolts of the department.
For now retired, former Captain Roderick Porter seemed to be of the mind some distance from the department adds a refreshing perspective to pinpoint management decisions to reform the department particularly, as he noted, overtime abuses that waste taxpayer dollars.
He seemed to edge away from the Garcia-Blackwell fray.
Garcia was clearly frosted by Blackwell’s morale assertions diminishing the ranks of the department. She countered that cops are leaving the department for other municipalities urged by commanders to flee.
Bridgeport is not exclusive to recruitment and departure issues. Many departments in Connecticut and across the country experience the same as law enforcement has come under fire and scrutiny over high profile cases.
The cost of health insurance premiums to cops also is among the mix of reasons for Bridgeport defections.
Thursday night provided Ganim some extra questions to ponder as he settles on one of the three. If he chooses Blackwell who arguably has the strongest connection with the community given his various roles in the department, how does that impact the future of Garcia? She had the rank of assistant chief when Ganim promoted her acting top cop after Armando Perez resigned in the aftermath of the 2018 police chief testing scam.
Superior Court Judge Barry Stevens has ruled that the non-competitive process that the city utilized to appoint Garcia assistant chief was illegal. The city has appealed that ruling. What friction complications exist if Blackwell is number one and Garcia remains number two, assuming she stays on board.
If Ganim sticks with Garcia the internal politics of the department including grievances from black officers that she plays favorites with Hispanic cops will not go away. In addition she’s not of the mind to face the community music when the department is confronted with noisy public issues such as the storm early this year over timely police notification of family deaths. She took a vacation during the apex of the controversy.
Right now of the three Porter is the safest choice for Ganim. He, like Blackwell, enjoys advanced degrees that escape Garcia. Porter also finished in the top three during the tainted 2018 exam, so he has history for testing success.
He’s also the most understated of the three.
On Tuesday the public gets one more public look at this vetting process at Harding High School.
Soon after that Ganim will interview each candidate individually with an eye on next year when he goes before the voters for another four-year term. The last thing he wants is a police department on fire during the dog days of summer.
Advice to the three finalists: think about that during your interview with Ganim.