A subcommittee of Brockton’s City Council will meet Tuesday to decide whether a request to make the city’s acting police chief a civilian police commissioner will make it to the full council for action.
Mayor Bill Carpenter’s decision to call 71-year-old veteran policeman Robert Hayden out of retirement has rankled some in the city, including the local police union, which tried to block the appointment on the grounds that the mandatory retirement age for police chiefs is 65.
A judge allowed a 60-day term for the appointment while the details are addressed.
Hayden, who lives in Hingham and is fighting cancer, replaced the popular Manny Gomes, who was returned to the rank of captain and now heads the school police department. If councilors agree to create the job of police commissioner, Hayden has said he would serve for a year and pick his successor. It’s not clear what would happen if they don’t.
Originally from Dorchester, Hayden is admired by many but also has his share of detractors, after a 40-plus-year law enforcement career that began in 1966 as a Boston patrol officer. He left the Boston Police Department in 1994 as a deputy superintendent to become the Lawrence police chief, then served as state undersecretary for public safety from 1998 to 2000, and retired in 2009 as assistant general manager for safety for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
Plymouth County Sheriff Joe McDonald, a family friend, is a big fan who said Hayden’s aggressive plan to curb crime in Brockton – involving roving motorcycle brigades and a multi-agency task force – is long overdue.
“I believe the character of Superman was based on Bob Hayden,’’ McDonald said. “I would characterize him as a legend.”
McDonald and others recall Hayden’s exploits, in and outside of work, including a role he had in the 2000-era reality TV show “Lost” when he and a partner were dropped penniless on a mountain in Colombia and had 25 days to make it back to New York. Or the video he made with the rock band Aerosmith and, more seriously, his decision on Sept. 11, 2001, to drive to the World Trade Center in New York upon hearing of the terrorist attacks.
“He was moving rubble and working with the firefighters,” said Hayden’s son, Robert Jr., a lawyer with the state Department of Public Utilities. “And I can tell you a hundred stories like that that didn’t get any attention.”
Others noted Hayden’s heroics in 2007 when he and another passenger took action to subdue two men acting erratically on a Northwest Airlines flight from Minneapolis to Boston.
On the home front, Hayden’s son described a selfless and generous father who skimped on himself, for example, by driving a bullet-ridden red Ford Pinto that had been caught in a shootout.
Former Boston mayor Ray Flynn, later an ambassador to the Vatican, described Hayden as “an honest, serious, and decent man” who ran with him in marathons, accompanied him to church, and got countless young men into halfway houses. Loyalty and teamwork are Hayden’s hallmarks, Flynn said.
But not everyone is as enthusiastic.
According to a Dec. 26, 1997, article in the Boston Herald, Hayden shocked Lawrence officials when he offered each officer in his 108-person department three extra vacations days as he left for the state job that he began early in the new year. Hayden said he gave the officers a “commendation” day for each of the years he was there, in thanks for efforts that saw arrests go from 800 a year to about 7,000 annually.
And once established as state undersecretary for public safety, he faced complaints of establishing a “hostile work environment” from several staffers, one of which was investigated by the Human Resources Division, according to an April 29, 1999, article in the Boston newspaper Bay Windows. According to the article, Charles McDonald, the department spokesman at the time, said the complaint was eventually found to be groundless.
In an interview, Hayden said he didn’t do anything inappropriate, and at least one of the allegations seemed to be retaliation for firing an employee who was close to the complainant.
“I was accused of wearing sunglasses in the office, chewing gum, and walking like a cop,’’ Hayden said.
Former Boston police lieutenant Tom Nolan, now a criminal justice professor in the New York state college system, said Hayden led heavy-handed anti-crime units in Boston in the ‘70s and ‘80s that wreaked havoc on minority neighborhoods.
Hiring Hayden in Brockton means a return to “the bad old days” in policing if those tactics are introduced, Nolan said.
“You will see them lining up minority men,” Nolan said. “These types of strategies prove to polarize the city police department and communities of color. You will see an increase in complaints against police and also, probably, lawsuits.”
Hayden refuted Nolan’s characterizations of his methods.
“The use of heavy-handed tactics depends on which side of the knife or gun you’re on,” said Hayden, who has been injured multiple times while on duty. “The first thing you have to do is stay alive to make it home.”
The era Nolan referred to was a terrible time to be a police officer in Boston, Hayden said, with court-ordered busing leading to race riots, as well as demonstrations against the Vietnam War.
Brockton, Hayden said, is at a tipping point, and his goal is to make it safer for the people who live there.
“This is not like Mayberry,” Hayden said, referring to the fictional small town on television. “And I’m an almost-72-year-old with cancer trying to do something good for the city. I’m only going to last one year, whether the cancer gets me or I leave.’’
Bob Buckley, Carpenter’s chief of staff, said people of all races and creeds have been interacting well with Hayden since his appointment. “He’s here to fight crime, and crime doesn’t have any color,’’ Buckley said.
Carpenter’s proposal before the City Council’s Ordinance Committee calls for Hayden to serve just 12 months as police commissioner and for the post to sunset after the term. After Hayden, the city will reimplement the police chief position.
Ward 3 City Councilor Dennis Eaniri, the committee chairman, said he’s never before seen an ordinance drafted for a particular person, describing the Carpenter administration diplomatically as “different.”
What’s important, though, he said, is to move the city forward.
“Let’s just get this in front of the full council,” Eaniri said.
Tuesday’s meeting begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at email@example.com.