PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Mayor Jorge Elorza is asking the Providence City Council to restore the original salary of a new high-ranking Police Department job aimed at improving police-community relations and looking at how to shift resources from the police to other social service providers.
Elorza — along with Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré and Police Chief Hugh Clements — sent a letter to the council Thursday ahead of a vote on a budget amendment to reclassify the police major job to a civilian role. Elorza named recreation director Michael Stephens to the job last month.
The original announcement drew surprise and frustration from council leaders, who said they had approved the funding for a brand new police major job under the impression it would go to a sworn police officer. (Majors are among the highest-ranking officers in the department. There are currently four majors.)
The council on Thursday night unanimously approved the proposal to both reclassify the job as a civilian role and change the job description, removing references to overseeing police training and being a major. The ordinance has to pass a second time before going to Elorza’s desk.
Elorza said he supports the new job title — administrator of community relations and diversion services — but not the salary cut.
“What we cannot support is the Finance Committee’s vote to devalue the authority and compensation of this important work by putting the salary for this position below that of a police major,” Elorza, Paré and Clements wrote in the letter. “If we are truly committed to a new way of policing, we must recognize that both our sworn officers and administrative personnel are critical to the success of the Providence Police Department and we must ensure fair compensation.”
The original budgeted salary for the new police major job was a range of $116,666 to $137,157. Elorza’s office said Thursday a precise salary for Stephens had not yet been negotiated, but Stephens was likely to be paid “at the top level of this range based upon his qualifications for the role and years of service and experience with the city.”
The amended position would decrease the pay to a range of $99,517 to $125,905.
In a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers on Thursday before the letter was sent, Council President John Igliozzi slammed the original decision to hire Stephens for the job, namely because he had no law enforcement experience.
“The mayor and his people — let’s call it like it is — wanted to hire the rec director to become a police major,” Igliozzi said, calling it “totally irresponsible.”
“What’s next, we’re going to hire a janitor to become the next chief of police?” he added.
Asked if the council doesn’t value the civilian job as much, he defended the decision to decrease the salary.
“I view it the other way. I highly value the police major position,” Igliozzi said. “The bottom line is, there is a fundamental difference between a police major in the Providence Police Department and a civilian.”
He also noted that the pay scale for the civilian job, while decreased, is still relatively high.
“The majority of my constituents would love to have that civilian job with that kind of money,” he said. “Most of them work two or three jobs and just try to make ends meet.”
He said the council plans to continue to fund a new fifth police major job.
The new community relations and diversion services police major was originally proposed to address mistrust between the community and the police, amid a movement to reform policing in America. The person in the position will explore diverting services away from traditional policing to a “broader set of services that more proactively meet the needs of our community,” Elorza and the two police leaders wrote in the letter.
The new job description says the person will also serve as a liaison between the community and the police department.
Elorza has not said whether he will veto the budget amendment if the salary for the job isn’t brought back up, but he did ask the Council Finance Committee to reconvene and amend it.
“I hope we can work together to ensure this new position, and its emphasis on police-community relations and strategic partnerships, is valued and compensated at the appropriate level,” Elorza wrote.