Metro

Wellesley police chief to head international group

Terrence M. Cunningham has been Wellesley’s police chief since 1999.
Terrence M. Cunningham has been Wellesley’s police chief since 1999.

Wellesley Police Chief Terrence M. Cunningham, who gained national attention last month when he apologized for historical injustices police have perpetrated against minorities, announced Wednesday he will leave the suburban department to become deputy executive director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Cunningham, who recently finished a year-long position as president of the Virginia-based professional group, has served as chief in Wellesley since 1999.

“It’s a tough, tough decision,” Cunningham said. “Yesterday was my 17-year anniversary as chief. . . We’ve got one of the best departments in the country here. I think I leave it in a really good place.”

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In the final days of his tenure as association president, Cunningham delivered an address at the group’s national conference in San Diego in which he called policing a “noble profession,” but said it was entwined with America’s history of racism and oppression.

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“This dark side of our shared history has created a multigenerational — almost inherited — mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies,” Cunningham said. “While we obviously cannot change the past, it is clear we must change the future.”

Cunningham grew up in Wellesley and graduated from the police academy in 1983. He is the former president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council.

In his new position, Cunningham said his top priorities will focus on improving community-police relations.

He currently chairs the group’s Institute for Community-Police Relations, which works to build trust between communities and police, and said he plans to try to pool resources with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

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“What can we do together?” he asked. “We shouldn’t do these as one-offs.”

The association recently received a grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to partner with the University of Cincinnati to establish a research center focused on studying policing issues. The research will seek to quantify promising but relatively untested initiatives, such as implicit bias training and crisis intervention training, designed to help officers respond to people with mental health issues.

“Terry’s a cop’s cop,” said Vincent Talucci, the association’s executive director. “But I also see him — and these aren’t mutually exclusive — I see a thoughtful, progressive police leader as well.”

The association represents 27,000 police leaders from around the world, and Cunningham will play a role in its work on community-police relations, use of force, and coordination and engagement and federal agencies.

“If there’s an issue confronting law enforcement, Terry’s going to have a hand in it,” Talucci said.

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Cunningham is likely to start his new position early next year. His replacement in Wellesley has not been chosen, the town’s executive director, Hans Larsen, said.

“Terry has made a tremendous contribution to our community through his leadership of the police department for many years here in Wellesley,” said Larsen. “We’re sorry to see him move on, but delighted to see him get a great opportunity for this next phase in his life and career.”

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.