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New Providence police chief plans to condense department

PROVIDENCE - The new chief of the Providence Police Department wants to reorganize the city’s nine police districts to better suit the force’s diminished numbers.

Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. said in an interview this week that he wants to put a new command staff in place and consult with its members before unveiling a reorganization plan.

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The districts are a key component of the community policing plan launched in 2003 by the former chief, Colonel Dean Esserman, and embraced by Clements, one of the first district commanders.

“It doesn’t make sense to have nine districts with the number of bodies we’ve gone down to,’’ said Clements, 54, who was named to the department’s top job Wednesday. “And the key is supervision.’’

The city and the police union reached an agreement last year that averted layoffs but cut the police budget by about $6 million, with significant savings coming from a retirement incentive. Clements said the department’s ranks have shrunk to 444 officers from a recent high of 498. About 25 took the retirement incentive, he said.

Taft Manzotti, president of the Providence Fraternal Order of Police, said he predicts union members will endorse whatever reorganization plan Clements devises because of his popularity among the rank and file and because he has done so many different jobs within the department.

“He’s going to be coming out with a plan, and I think the majority of the people are going to embrace his plan,’’ Manzotti said.

The reorganization has been on the back burner for two reasons. First, the deadline for officers planning to leave the department with the retirement incentive was delayed from August to October. Second, Clements said, he did not want to roll out any changes in case he was not named to the chief position.

Clements, a 26-year Providence police veteran, was named acting chief after Esserman resigned in June. Esserman gave up his job after underage drinking took place at his daughter’s graduation party. He is now the chief of the New Haven police.

Clements said that the department is stretched so thin for supervisors that some roll calls are conducted without sergeants present and that it now makes sense to condense districts.

“Everyone knows we’re probably going to downsize,’’ he said.

Clements said he must name a deputy chief and a replacement for uniform division commander, Major Steven M. Melaragno, who has been named director of security at Roger Williams University. Clements is going to be sworn in as chief in a few weeks, city officials said. Once those hires are made, Clements said, he also intends to roll out plans to make better use of data to combat crime and car crashes. The strategy will be tested in three police districts, including the area around Providence College.

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