Top-cop shopping

Has Menino already decided on the next police commissioner? And if so, why won’t he name him or her till November?
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  August 15, 2006

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SHOPPING: If it's going to take six months, why engage in a full-scale search?
It’s been three months since former commissioner Kathleen O’Toole announced she was leaving the Boston Police Department, and only one bit of information has been confirmed: Mayor Thomas Menino isn’t making the mistake of rushing to name her replacement. In fact, a source close to the selection process says the mayor is not likely to swear in a new top cop until at least November.

That doesn’t quite jibe with the sense of urgency with which Menino spoke of the search process in May, after O’Toole announced her plans to depart.

And if the mayor has been working quietly behind the scenes, it hasn’t been through predictable channels. The Phoenix recently surveyed police chiefs in more than a half-dozen big cities and learned that none had been contacted by anyone from Boston. Nor had anyone heard rumors about potential candidates.

“Usually I hear something,” one police chief told the Phoenix. The candidates for the open post in Newark, New Jersey, are common knowledge, and there’s some scuttlebutt about the open Minneapolis job, he says. “I’m not hearing anything about Boston.”

Another police chief from a city similar in size Boston to said he wasn’t even aware the top job was open.

Of course, it’s possible that they are maintaining a tactical silence, and that more is happening in the search process than meets the eye. But local observers are wondering if anything is happening at all. Which begs the question: if it’s going to take six months or more to name a commissioner, why not engage in a full-scale search process, instead of relying on the small “advisory committee” Menino appointed in June?

To some, the answer is simple. Menino has already decided who he’s going to name, but he wants to appear as if he’s going through some sort of process. That perception is bolstered by the fact that Menino is relying on candidate suggestions from a handpicked advisory committee whose recommendations he’s free to ignore. Had Menino relied on a formal search committee, he would have had to choose a commissioner from the committee’s list.

Others, like Barry Mullen, head of the Florida Corridor Neighborhood Association in Dorchester, speculate that Menino is delaying his announcement until winter comes and the shooting spree ebbs. And some suspect Menino is relishing the role of top cop while the position is unfilled. Interim commissioner Albert Goslin, who was named superintendent-in-chief by Menino on May 12 and acting commissioner on July 1, is, after all, a placeholder; he’s not going to launch new anti-crime efforts or make any important appointments without the okay from City Hall — and he certainly won’t embarrass the mayor, as O’Toole did, by publicly stating that he needs more men in uniform.

Whatever the reasons for the delay, shootings are continuing to rise throughout Boston, BPD morale is plummeting, and the odds of landing a great commissioner may be rapidly on the decline.

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