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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, June 22, 2024

Mayor Ballantyne rejects police chief candidate, sending search for a replacement into a fourth year

The decision has garnered mixed reactions from those involved in the search.

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A Somerville Police Department patrol car is pictured outside SPD headquarters on Jan. 31, 2020.

Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne and Somerville’s Police Chief Search Committee announced on Nov. 9 that their search for the next chief of the Somerville Police Department will continue. Somerville has been in the process of selecting the new chief since December 2020, when former Chief David Fallon retired.

According to Jesse Clingan, Somerville city councilman and member of the Police Chief Search Committee, the nationwide search for a police chief produced three finalists, all from the general area. Those finalists were announced in October and following live interviews, the committee selected one candidate for Mayor Ballantyne to approve, whom she then rejected.  

The mayor’s office did not respond when contacted for comment by the Daily.

Ballantyne’s decision has garnered mixed reactions from those involved in the search.

“We did the work. We came together as a community with the understanding of what the City of Somerville needs. … We were all in agreement on at least two of those candidates,” Clingan told the Daily. “I’m not happy about it.”

Clingan has asked to be taken off of the committee as they move forward in finding new candidates.

Charlie Femino, who served as Somerville’s acting police chief from 2013 to 2014, will continue as interim acting police chief again until a replacement is found.

Myles Herbert, a Somerville resident and member of Somerville’s Civilian Oversight Task Force had negative opinions about Ballantyne’s decision.

“It’s just kind of another example of a city or a mayor slow-walking reform,” Herbert said. “Ballantyne is someone who, when confronted with a tough issue, will go with a study every time. It’s called decision paralysis … it’s ‘perfect’ being the enemy of ‘good.’”

Denise Molina Capers, Somerville’s racial and social justice director and chair of the Police Chief Search Committee, supported Ballantyne’s decision.

“We have an ordinance and the ordinance is a very key part of the way the system is designed. We have to follow the ordinance in this process,” Molina Capers said. “Everyone is engaged and there is no one person that is making a decision. It was designed to have a team of individuals who help make the best decision for Somerville.”

Clingan expressed concern that Somerville has been left without an official police chief for years. On his constituents’ reactions, Clingan shared that “people are frustrated, it’s somewhat embarrassing.”

According to Yolanda Smith, Tufts’ executive director of public safety, TUPD expects to continue the community policing model which she says has worked best for both police departments.

“We have a very good relationship with the Somerville Police Department, who always support us in our time of need. I cannot say that there has been any adverse effect during the hiring process of the new Police Chief. Chief Femino and his team have remained committed to assisting TUPD,” Smith wrote in an email to the Daily.

Councilman Clingan said he hopes that a new police chief can “bring people together in a balanced way that understands the role of police is that of more of a customer service role in the way they deal with the public.”

Somerville currently has multiple task forces working to reform the city’s police force, including the Public Safety for All Task Force, the Anti-Violence Working Group and the Civilian Oversight Task Force. Molina Capers noted that each group includes community members.

“All this very hard work that’s being done [creates] information that the new police chief would have available to them in order to make decisions that best fit the very diverse needs of Somerville constituents,” Molina Capers said.

Alexander Gard-Murray, a member of the Civilian Oversight Task Force, explained why having a civilian oversight body could be helpful in similar situations in the future.

“The goal with an oversight board is to give the community additional confidence that they have a voice in how policing is run in Somerville,” Gard-Murray said. “So if we have people who aren’t committed to reform in the future or if we have problems with filling posts in the future, hopefully a good civilian oversight board will make it easier to navigate those periods because civilians will have this extra body looking out for them.”

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