PROVIDENCE — With no discussion, the City Council moved to eliminate funding for a new police major from the budget Thursday night, preventing Mayor Jorge O. Elorza from appointing the city recreation director to the role.
On Sept. 3, Elorza chose Michael Stephens, a top-ranked NCAA referee and the city’s recreation director since 2015, to be a police major in charge of Community Relations and Diversion Services — despite Stephens’ lack of education or experience in law enforcement.
Elorza’s appointment of a civilian caused an uproar, particularly among those who have long pressed City Hall to appoint a veteran Black officer to major. The Providence police union and the National Association of Black Law Enforcement decried the appointment as a “slap in the face” to qualified veteran officers.
At Thursday’s meeting, councilors sent the Finance Committee two amendments to the budget. One will create a police major position, another will create a civilian public-safety liaison in the office of the public safety commissioner.
The amendments will have to be discussed and heard at the committee; President John Igliozzi said last week the members would solicit feedback from the police chief, and start the hiring process all over again.
Initially, the City Council had enthusiastically backed the creation of a police major’s position for Community Relations and Diversion Services, authorizing a salary of $116,666 to $137,157. The responsibilities included developing a program to divert police calls to other services, overseeing the police training academy, promotions and testing, and building relationships between the community and police department.
Moving a civilian into a police job also could have threatened the Police Department’s state and national accreditation. No civilian can hold a police position, unless the person has been through an accredited police academy and obtained POST certification, for Peace Officers Standards and Training.
Even though Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. said Stephens would not wear a uniform, carry weapons, or enforce any laws or ordinances, the title major is for law enforcement, not civilians.
Elorza backed his choice, saying that he made his decision in consultation with the chief and Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Pare. Stephens is well-liked and respected in Providence for his work with the city’s youth and his skills as a top referee. He’s also a friend of Elorza, who appointed him director of recreation in 2015, and runs the mayor’s annual golf tournament. Elorza said he thought Stephens stood out from the police finalists for his skills in community-police relations. Stephens was also going to continue working his other jobs as a coordinator in several basketball conferences.
Neither he nor the police administration were clear on what Stephens could do in the police major role.
Igliozzi had urged the mayor to modify the police major’s job to a civilian position. When the mayor refused, Igliozzi and 10 City Council members wrote a letter to the mayor saying they intended to start over, with different jobs.
Igliozzi was joined on the open letter by Council President Pro Tempore Pedro Espinal, Majority Leader James Taylor, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas Narducci Jr., Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris, Majority Whip Carmen Castillo, Ward 6 Councilman Michael Correia, Ward 1 Councilman John Goncalves, Ward 5 Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, Ward 14 Councilman David Salvatore, and Ward 15 Councilman Oscar Vargas.
The council resubmitted the classification and compensation ordinances; the salary for the new civilian position and the parameters of the job are up for discussion at Finance Committee next week. Stephens may have to reapply for the job.