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Search for new Somerville chief is near end

Two candidates left for top police job

A team of Somerville officials has selected two finalists — a department insider and the current chief of the largest city in New Hampshire — to vie for the police chief position with the hopes that one of them will end the recent trend of turnover at the top.

The finalists are David Fallon, Somerville’s deputy chief of operations, and David Mara, the chief in Manchester, N.H.

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Five men have served as the Somerville chief since George McLean retired in 2005. Robert Bradley, a longtime member of the Somerville force, served as interim chief until Anthony Holloway was hired in 2007 after the city’s first nationwide search to fill the job. Holloway resigned after two years to take the chief’s job in Clearwater, Fla. While Deputy Chief Michael Cabral served as acting chief while the city conducted a second nationwide search, Thomas Pasquarello, a regional director for the Drug Enforcement Agency, was hired in 2010. He resigned last fall to take care of a sick family member.

Since the first nationwide search, internal candidates have not had the edge. Bradley was a finalist for the permanent post in 2007, and Cabral made the short list in 2010 and again during the current search.

Captain Charles Femino, who is currently serving as acting chief, was not eligible to apply for the permanent post, according to a November 2013 city posting announcing his appointment.

Mayor Joseph Curtatone said the turnover has not changed the city’s selection approach.

“When people make choices because of quality of life, or because of unforeseen circumstances, that’s just part of the process,” he said. “But when we look in the aggregate, the last two chiefs we’ve had combined in their service here have been exemplary and really heads above the leadership we’ve had in decades.

“My hope is that we hire the best person, and that person exceeds our expectations and stays here for as long as possible.”

There are advantages to both hiring a candidate who is on the Somerville force versus a candidate who is not from the city, said Alderman at Large John Connolly.

“With the inside guy, there’s no learning curve: he knows everybody,” he said. “The outside guy, he’s not personally invested or socially acquainted so he can be very neutral; he doesn’t have a history with these individuals.”

Fallon, 46, has been with the Somerville police since 1998 and was promoted to deputy chief in September 2013. His current duties include overseeing patrol operations; the traffic unit; budgetary issues; and discipline within the department in conjunction with command staff, according to his resume.

Fallon served in the Air Force for 21 years and retired as a master sergeant. He was deployed to Oman during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Mara, 52, was appointed chief in Manchester, N.H. — a city of about 110,ooo residents — in 2008. He first joined the Police Department in 1986, and is also a graduate of New England School of Law and served two stints as a prosecuting attorney. According to his resume, he represented the state in the Manchester city solicitor’s office from September 1995 to August 1996, and the Police Department from June 1997 to December 2003.

The Waters Consulting Group Inc., an executive recruiting company, was hired by the city to conduct a nationwide search for candidates. The company worked with the city’s police chief search committee to interview Somerville officials and more than 40 constituent group representatives. A public hearing also was held, and a survey garnered about 200 responses.

According to the survey results, some of the most highly sought characteristics of a new chief include visibility within the Police Department; visibility within the community; experience in dealing with mental health and addiction issues; commitment to civil liberties and individual rights; communication skills; and relationship building.

In addition to Cabral, Fallon, and Mara, the fourth finalist was Thomas J. Wydra, the current chief in Hamden, Conn.

At the end of this month, Curtatone said, he will spend a half-day for each finalist, interviewing the candidates and other community members. His goal is to tell the Board of Aldermen his choice by the end of August.

“The process has been transparent and open, but it’s also been very robust,” Curtatone said.

John Murphy, 82, who has lived in Somerville for 40 years, said he would like Fallon to be selected because he’s worked on the force and knows the city.

“He’s more qualified or just as qualified as any other guy,” Murphy said. “He’s the favorite.”

Laurel Stroman, 50, said she feels safe in Somerville but hopes the new chief will focus on reducing the amount of prescription drug abuse among residents.

Stroman, who works as an artist, said, “I’ve had people ask me; they list specific prescription drugs they’re looking for, and it’s been concerning me.”

Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang, who is a member of the city’s Public Health and Public Safety Committee, said the future chief needs to be able to maintain the city’s progress on decreasing crime. The number of crimes reported dropped from 2,619 in 2008 to an estimated 1,729 offenses in 2013, according to Police Department figures.

“Crime has dropped dramatically here over the last 10 or 15 years,” Niedergang said. “Things have been getting better pretty steadily here, and people feel safe.”

Niedergang also said he wants the next chief to make it a priority to connect with the immigrant population.

“It’s important for a chief of police to gain their confidence, to reach out to them, to instill a positive attitude in the rest of the department toward the immigrant community.”

Katherine Landergan can be reached at katherine.lander-gan1@gmail.com.
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