‘That’s not happening’: Council moves to block Elorza from making rec director a police major

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence City Council has taken the first step to formally reclassify a would-be police major job to a civilian role, after Mayor Jorge Elorza drew criticism for unexpectedly naming a civilian to the high-ranking police job.

City Council President John Igliozzi introduced amendments to the city budget at Thursday night’s meeting that would remove the new police major job — which the council approved and funded earlier this year — and instead add a “public safety community police liaison” position to the public safety commissioner’s office.

“There will no longer be a police major who’s a civilian,” Igliozzi said in an interview. “That’s not happening.”

The proposed amendments also decrease the salary range for the job to a range of $99,517 to $125,905, down from the originally-approved salary range of $116,666 to $137,157.

The proposal was referred to the Council Finance Committee for consideration, and a hearing is expected next week.

Elorza appointed city recreation director Michael Stephens to be a police major earlier this month, sparking both derision and praise, since Stephens is a not a police officer and doesn’t have law enforcement experience.

The new position is designed to improve community-police relations and oversee the diversion of certain calls away from police, in addition to overseeing recruitment, training and promotions at the police department.

The job was announced back in January and was later approved in the city budget by the council, but was expected to be given to a law enforcement officer. (The original job description required 10 years of law enforcement experience and a related bachelor’s degree, but was later amended.)

Police majors are among the highest-ranking sworn officers in Providence, just below the chief and deputy chief. The department currently has four majors.

Shortly after the announcement that Stephens would be “sworn in” as a police major, Igliozzi said the council had expected a lower-ranking police officer to be promoted to the job.

“When the mayor chose to take a different train, a different track, and appoint a civilian to become a Providence police officer without any background, training, certification or anything, it was completely contrary to the entire concept,” Igliozzi said.

He said Elorza’s decision had left him in “disbelief.” A veto-proof majority of councilors signed on to a letter asking for the job to be reclassified.

Elorza said Wednesday he does not support the changes to the budget as written, but said he is in talks with Igliozzi about amending the ordinances before passage.

The mayor acknowledged that the job was not originally conceived as a civilian role.

“This wasn’t the direction that we were contemplating,” Elorza said. “But when we reviewed all of the résumés, he stood out because of what he brings to the table, because of his deep relationships in the community. I think a lot of people were surprised, but with that said this was a decision that we had a process, with a committee that put the names forward, myself, the commissioner and the chief were in agreement that Mike Stephens was the best person for this role.”

Elorza’s office has declined to provide the list of finalists for the job, nor have his spokespersons responded to questions about the salary Stephens was offered. His office said 43 people applied, and seven of them were interviewed by a hiring committee.

Col. Hugh Clements, the police chief, said Stephens will not have a gun, uniform or be a sworn police officer. He also won’t run the police academy, which was part of the original job description.

“I support that they’re moving to make it a civilian title,” Clements said Thursday. He said he disagreed with the council’s proposal to put the job under the public safety commissioner’s office.

“I would recommend that it falls under the police department,” he said, adding that he believes Stephens is the right person for the job.

Discussions are still underway about Stephens’ job description, which is unlikely to match the original plan.

Rank-and-file officers both privately and publicly criticized Elorza for initially appointing Stephens as a major.

“Mr. Stephens is obviously an incredible resource when it comes to community relations and bridging the gap between the community and Police,” the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 wrote on its Facebook page, but warned, “we are sure he would agree he has limited credentials at best when concerning police related matters.”

“The idea may have been correct, but the process was wrong,” said Lt. Charles Wilson, chairman of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers. “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.”

But the appointment was praised by Harrison Tuttle, executive director of the Black Lives Matter R.I. PAC.

“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.”

Stephens’ first day on the job has not yet been determined.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook

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