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RI POLICING

Providence Mayor Smiley opens search for new police chief

The mayor said he is seeking input from the public about the qualities they want to see in the next leader of the Providence Police Department and what their priorities are for its 400-plus members

From left: Providence Mayor Brett Smiley, outgoing Police Chief Hugh Clements, and Nonviolence Institute Executive Director Cedric Huntley at a press conference on Jan. 13, 2023, to announce the launch of a search for the city's new chief of police.Amanda Milkovits

PROVIDENCE — Mayor Brett P. Smiley officially opened up the search for a new police chief on Friday, a process that he anticipates will take about a month.

In a step outside of usual appointments for chiefs, Smiley said he is seeking input from the public about the qualities they want to see in the next leader of the Providence Police Department and what their priorities are for its 400-plus members. The city is launching a survey, with questions in English and Spanish, and will hold a community forum next month with the finalists so the public can meet them and ask questions.

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“When I think about the next police chief for the city of Providence,” Smiley said during an announcement at City Hall, “I want to make sure that we have an exceptional leader who cares about community relations, who’s committed to community policing, but is also willing to focus on the priority that I’ve set for quality of life crimes, to improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods, and to make Providence, in fact, the best-run city in the country.”

As the mayor spoke, the man who has held the top job for nearly a dozen years stood beside him. Chief Hugh T. Clements Jr. appeared solemn and moved, as Smiley talked about how proud he was of Clements and the department, and how he’d wished the chief would stay.

While the search is open to all qualified applicants, Smiley said he has a preference for candidates either currently in the Providence police command staff or who have spent most of their career policing in Providence. “I think that the department is in a good place, and so those in the command staff today and those who have learned to police in Providence do have an advantage in the process,” Smiley said. “But we’re not closing the door to outside candidates. And I will say that I think it is actually one of the attributes of a good leader and one of the reasons that Chief Clements has been so successful is that he’s built a strong bench. Great leaders do that.”

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Clements is leaving for a national-level position that has not been disclosed. He has served in the Providence Police Department for more than 37 years and is the second-longest serving chief for the Providence Police Department since it was established in 1864.

“Being the police chief has been beyond the honor of a lifetime,” Clements said. “I believe we built a culture of leadership in this police department. Many have gone on to be police chiefs and heads of security. I know the command staff that works with me now, they are fully capable, suitable, they’re ready. I think it’s important for the next leader, as I did, to make this a better place than how you found it.”

The chief’s position is posted on the city’s website and applications will be accepted on a rolling basis.

The job offers a $175,000 salary. The department’s fiscal year 2023 budget is about $100 million, with an authorized staff of 441 sworn officers and 90 civilian employees. Applicants are required to hold a bachelor’s degree with a specialty in criminal justice, public administration, or a closely related field; have 10 years of progressively responsible law enforcement experience; and be able to work collaboratively with other city departments, councils, community advisory groups, and other constituencies. Among other requirements, the new police chief must have a deep familiarity with community policing as part of an overall strategy, and experience and commitment to “centering public health and human-centered approaches to advancing public safety for vulnerable populations.”

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Smiley and Clements will review the initial applicants for qualifications, prior experience, leadership skills, and how they fit community needs as identified in the survey. Applicants will be subjected to a background check.

The finalists will be introduced at a public forum on Feb. 8 at 5:30 p.m. that will be co-moderated by Nonviolence Institute Executive Director Cedric Huntley and Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, where candidates will be asked questions developed through the survey. The location of the community forum hasn’t been set yet.

Smiley said he hasn’t decided whether he will fill the public safety commissioner’s job. Public Safety Commissioner Steven M. Paré, who retired on Jan. 2.

A new chief will answer directly to the mayor. Smiley said that he won’t be “reaching in” to make personnel decisions within the department.

“We’ve made such great strides to de-politicize the Providence Police Department. I will maintain those standards. It is the chief’s responsibility to make sure that personnel are managed, that promotions are made by merit, and those situations will remain as they are today, which are non-political and professional,” Smiley said.

However, Smiley said that as mayor, he and the City Council have a role in setting some policy objectives and priorities.

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“I expect to be involved in that respect, but it will be collaborative, and I will provide the leadership and the feedback from the residents about changes that we’d like to see or focuses,” he said. “Then it’s the department’s job and the chief’s job to help make those policies realistic and actionable, and provide their insight into the realities of policing in Providence and in America.”


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.