Menino: Get help!

Why you must get Boston a top cop from the outside world
By DAVID BERNSTEIN  |  May 17, 2006

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PICK ONE AND BACK AWAY: Tommy, you need to look to other cities, pick a qualified outsider, and let that person do his or her job — three things you did not do with Kathleen O’Toole.

The Honorable Mayor Thomas A. Menino:

This fall, you will play host to some 15,000 members of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). Surely someone among them could run the Boston Police Department (BPD).

Hiring someone from the outside world would go against decades of parochial Boston tradition and run counter to every instinct you have ever shown as mayor. That’s why everyone expects you to act swiftly in naming a successor to departing commissioner Kathleen O’Toole. One City Hall insider says flatly that there will not be a full-scale nationwide search, adding that “there is a sense of urgency about this.” The only question most people have is whether the job will go to your buddy Robert Dunford or to a Dunford ally, with Dunford second in command.

Tom: take a deep breath. Count to ten. Think serene thoughts.

This is a time to do it right, not fast.

The sense of urgency is understandable but grossly inflated. A few rudderless months — hardly a departure from the status quo — is a small sacrifice for getting what the city badly needs: someone with real leadership ability, breadth of experience, fresh ideas, and, perhaps most important, no baggage. Someone who demands actual results, and gets rid of those who don’t produce. Not someone who will, as O’Toole did this January, stand and nod as Daniel Coleman, head of the country’s worst homicide squad, tells the city at a press conference that there is nothing his unit can do to improve the arrest rate, except hope that citizens start turning in killers.

Let people throw stones at you for taking your time. You don’t face re-election until November 2009. You are trusted in the neighborhoods most affected by the shocking rise in violence.

Of the 50 largest US cities, 14 hired their current police chiefs from outside the city, according to Phoenix research. That includes six of the 16 chosen in the past two years: the top cops in Albuquerque, Charlotte-Mecklenberg, Dallas, Houston, Nashville, and San Antonio.

You might want to call Shirley Franklin, your counterpart in Atlanta. The FBI had named her city America’s most violent for three straight years when, in 2002, Franklin reached outside the city to hire Richard Pennington, the highly respected New Orleans police chief. Pennington reorganized and reinvigorated Atlanta’s badly dysfunctional police department. Homicides dropped from 152 in 2002 to 89 last year.

The closest Boston has come to bringing in a commissioner from the outside was when it hired William Bratton, in 1993. Bratton, a BPD veteran, had left to run New York City’s Transit Authority police department. At Mayor Ray Flynn’s begging, he returned to save a scandal-rocked BPD, becoming second in command to Francis “Mickey” Roache in 1992, and taking over the following year when Roache resigned. Bratton so stood out from his predecessors and successors that his reign is thought of as a golden age, even though it lasted less than six months, at which point he returned to the Big Apple.

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Eight to consider

1) Richard Pennington, chief of police, Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta had been named America’s most violent city three years running in 2002, when Pennington came from New Orleans, where he had dramatically turned the tide against that city’s sky-high crime levels. Pennington completely reorganized Atlanta’s department and has dramatically reduced violent crime.

2) Gil Kerlikowske, chief of police, Seattle, Washington
Boston contacted Kerlikowske during the search for Paul Evans’s replacement; he was also wooed by San Francisco for the top job there at around the same time. Before coming to Seattle in 2000, he served as chief in three other cities, including Buffalo, New York, and also as the US Department of Justice’s deputy director for community-oriented policing programs.

3) Stan Knee, chief of police, Austin, Texas
Knee recently told an interviewer that he has no intention of leaving Austin, where he has been chief for nearly a decade. Under his watch, crime has remained low in Austin — a city similar to Boston in many ways. And last year, his homicide squad solved all 26 of the city’s murders.

4) Paul M. Walters, chief of police, Santa Ana, California
Walters, a proponent of community-oriented policing, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Police Department top job that went to William Bratton in 2002. Santa Ana, a growing city of 350,000 near Los Angeles, has remained relatively crime-free since Walters became chief in 1988.

5) Theron Bowman, chief of police, Arlington, Texas
Bowman received a major national police-executive award and has implemented an innovative strategy that assigns accountability to community policing.

6) Thomas Warren, chief of police, Omaha, Nebraska
In 2000, Omaha had 37 homicides — just two fewer than Boston. Since then, it has averaged around 28 a year, compared with Boston’s 65 — and has a homicide-arrest rate of about twice that of Boston.

7) John Timoney, chief of police, Miami, Florida
Former Philadelphia police chief and a finalist — second only to Bratton — for the Los Angeles job in 2002, Timoney has seen anything and everything that Boston can throw at him. Crime in Miami has stabilized under his watch.

8) Norman D. Williams, chief of police, Wichita, Kansas
Under Williams, the homicide-arrest rate in Wichita has been essentially 100 percent. The city has received national recognition for its community-policing success.

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