Search For New Police Chief Starts Inside Department This Week

Photo: Mark Paolillo (left) and James Hicks.

Five candidates from within the Belmont Police Department have begun the selection process to become the town’s next Police Chief as the committee established to review the applicants has begun its work this week.

The candidates will go before the Police Chief Screening Committee in executive session to present a Powerpoint presentation of a 12-month plan for running the department and answer prepared questions. The finalists could potentially be asked to attend a public forum to meet and greet residents.

And while some members of the nine-member screening committee have expressed their willingness to add candidates from outside the department, the chair of the committee said it will closely follow the charge provided by the Belmont Select Board this past spring.

“We were told to come up with at least two internal applicants who meet the qualifications to be presented to the [Select] Board,” said Mark Paolillo, the former three-term Selectman and the son of a Cambridge police chief.

“Ultimately, it’s [the Select Board’s] decision to decide to move forward on the next chief,” said Paolillo, who reminded the group that it would be advantageous to complete the process sooner than later as current Police Chief Richard McLaughlin will retire on Dec. 31.

A diverse committee made up of residents, seniors, schools, community groups, town officials and a current police chief – James Hicks of Natick – met for the first time on Sept. 5 and unanimously named Paolillo chair.

The Police Chief Steering Committee.

Paolillo said with the help of Rick White of Gerux White Consulting – the municipal management consulting firm that assisted the town in hiring Patrice Garvin as Town Administrator and Belmont Light’s general manager Christopher Roy – “and based on some feedback we got from the community … and on our own feedback,” the committee will create a set of criteria that applicants will need to meet to be recommended to the Select Board.

“We want it to be a robust process. This will be the chief of police for the next whatever number years, so we must get it right,” said Paolillo.

A few members believed that expanding the pool of candidates with law enforcement professionals outside of Belmont would be advantageous to the process, recalling McLaughlin was a long-time member of the Arlington PD (although he is a lifetime resident of Belmont.)

Hicks – who noted he was hired twice as an outsider in both Bedford and Natick – said moving initially with only current Belmont Police personnel could be problematic if the committee decides that only one or none of the candidates are selected to be presented to the Select Board.

“You could be in a situation where you’ll be saying that ‘one or two are still in the running but we’re going to open it up [to outside applicants].’ I think it’s a confusing message to send to the internal candidates if that occurs,” he said.

With a wider pool, “it sends a message that the process is vital to everyone,” said Hicks.

But Paolillo said the select board’s charge to the committee is clear and “we want to first look internally, [and] determine if we have qualified candidates that … meet the qualifications to serve as the next police chief.”

Asked after the meeting if the committee is unable to send two candidates forward, Paolillo saidthan that’s just the way the process worked and we’ll then proceed with external candidates.”

As for what the community is seeking in a new chief, White interviewed department heads, the ranking officers, some patrol officers, members of the Middle and High School Building Committee and some residents and found that “universally everybody has great regard for chief McLaughlin and what he’s accomplished as a leader.”

“They liked the way he’s engaged the community, the departments, the schools, and improved the footprint of the police department from where it was when he first came. And everybody without exception, said we’d like someone to take what [McLaughlin] built here and build on it,” said White.

One area that the public would like to see a new chief commit to “is a much more diverse workforce … by demographically representing the area,” said White.