Providence, RI – A city park and recreation worker with no prior law enforcement experience was appointed to a high-ranking Providence Police Department (PPD) position by the mayor last week.
Providence Park and Recreation Director Michael Stephens, a civilian who has never performed law enforcement duties, was named as PPD’s Community Relations and Diversion Services major by Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza on Sept. 3, WJAR reported.
Elorza released a statement the same day announcing Stephens’ appointment to the newly-minted position.
“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,” Elorza declared.
Although he will be a police major, Stephens will not be armed and will not wear a uniform, Providence Safety Commissioner Steven Pare told WJAR.
He also will not have any arrest powers, PPD Chief Hugh Clements told The Boston Globe.
Providence City Council President John Igliozzi said the council was under the impression that the position was going to be filled by a minority law enforcement officer working for the PPD, WJAR reported.
Elorza’s decision to appoint someone with absolutely no law enforcement experience “sends mixed signals,” Igliozzi told WJAR.
If the mayor wants Stephens to fill that type of role, the title should be changed to emphasize the fact that it is a civilian position, the city council president said.
“It demoralizes the rank and file and it confuses the community,” he said. “By the mayor doing it this way, he further created an inhibitor for us to move forward in a positive direction. What we need to do is to maintain the function of the job but to change the title, since it’s going to be a civilian, if that’s what the mayor wants, then we change it to a Public Safety Community Liaison position, not a police major in the Providence Police Department.”
According to the city’s job posting, Stephens doesn’t even meet the basic requirements to be considered as a PPD major – a position with an annual salary range of $113,268 to $120,189, The Boston Globe reported.
Applicants were required to have a bachelors degree in public administration, criminal justice, or an equivalent field, and were also required to have at least 10 years of law enforcement or public safety field work, according to the job posting.
The mayor still chose Stephens over all the other applicants, to include officers of color working within the PPD.
The members of the committee that chose the final four applicants for the position included National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Providence branch President Jim Vincent, The Boston Globe reported.
Vincent said Stephens, the only civilian to make the final four, “has street credibility” and is popular with the city’s youth because of his longtime coaching experience.
“I think he’ll be able to win over the rank and file,” Vincent told the paper.
The new major will be expected to oversee the police training academy and training bureau, and will be responsible for recruiting, selecting, retaining, and training new recruits, The Boston Globe reported.
The new major is also responsible for creating and carrying out diversion programs to reduce the number of calls to law enforcement, and must be well-versed regarding emerging law enforcement issues, according to the job posting.
“We would prefer a major would be of law enforcement cloth,” Providence Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President Michael Imondi told The Boston Globe. “If you’re in charge of the academy, you have to have some knowledge of what law enforcement does and the qualifications.”
“This once again clearly shows a lack of understanding, leadership, and arrogance on the mayor’s behalf, once again pandering to the political winds,” Imondi said. “This sets a bad precedent for future appointments of individuals who have no law enforcement experience in positions that clearly call for it…But then again, we have a mayor who had no qualifications to lead a city and we see what that’s done to the city of Providence, so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.”
Elorza said the whole point of the Community Relations and Diversion Services major position is to “elevate community policing to the highest ranks” of the PPD, WJAR reported.
“The Community Relations and Diversions Services Major must have existing connections to our community, and be a strong relationship-builder as we look to strengthen our partnerships between the City, law enforcement, first responders, healthcare professionals, and our community,” the mayor added. “Mike Stephens has a proven track record of meeting and surpassing these qualifications.”
Elorza said he is confident Stephens and his “decades of experience” will make him a perfect PPD major.
His swearing-in ceremony will be announced in coming weeks, WJAR reported.
Imondi said the mayor’s decision to hand a civilian a high-ranking PPD position “sets a bad precedent for future appointments of individuals who have no law enforcement experience.”
Stephens organizes the mayor’s annual golf tournament and has been an NCAA referee for over 20 years, The Boston Globe reported.
The mayor’s office did not respond to questions about Stephens’ lack of qualifications, according to the paper.
Stephens also did not respond to requests for comment late last week, The Boston Globe reported.
Elorza further announced that the city is working with social service providers to “assess how our city responds to emergencies,” according to WJAR.
The group will develop recommendations that will be used to create the Behavioral Health Crisis Response Project.
Elorza touted the program as an “opportunity to change how we approach public safety and behavioral health issues in our city.”