PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is getting flak for appointing the city’s recreation director to a new position within the police department, even though he doesn’t have any experience in law enforcement.
Michael Stephens was recently tapped to become the Providence Police Department’s first-ever community relations and diversion services major.
“Throughout Michael Stephens’ accomplished career, he has always prioritized community-building on behalf of the City of Providence,” Elorza said. “As the city’s first community relations and diversion services major, Michael will continue to serve as a relationship-builder, strengthening and expanding the connections between our community and the police department while bringing the voice of the community to the highest levels of leadership within the department.”
The city first announced the creation of the new position back in January, though at the time it was unclear who would be filling the position.
Stephens is now one of five majors in the police department, which is one of the reasons why Elorza’s decision has drawn criticism from several community leaders and politicians, including Lt. Charles Wilson, chairman of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers.
“The idea may have been correct, but the process was wrong,” Wilson explained. “If you are going to direct the activities of police officers, you need to understand fully what their job is and how and why they do their job.”
Providence City Council President John Igliozzi believes that, while Stephens has a “commendable record of community leadership,” he does not possess the qualifications for the position.
Igliozzi called the appointment particularly unfair to the “many other trained officers who have worked hard to move up the ranks within our police force.”
In order to make it clear to the public that this is a civilian position, Igliozzi suggested Elorza change the name and scope of the position from police major to public safety community-police liaison.
“This will resolve any confusion about the roles and make clear that this is a civilian position,” Igliozzi said.
Wilson said the position should not only be clarified, but should also be reposted and filled by a member of the department.
“The selection shows a deep level of disrespect and demeaning of the qualifications of each and every African American officer that was a candidate for this job,” Wilson said.
But not everyone is against the appointment.
Harrison Tuttle, executive director of the Black Lives Matter Political Action Committee is commending Elorza for choosing Stephens.
“I think this will breed a sense of comfortability with people in Providence because they know this person has spent his entire life centered around their best interests,” Tuttle said. “I think when people look for public safety, they look for people that they are close with and have a relationship with.”
12 News reached out to Stephens about the position, but a spokesperson for the city said he is currently on vacation and will respond once he returns.