Public says hire new Stamford police chief from within

January 29, 2019

STAMFORD — If there was one thing that West Side residents tried to make clear to the representatives of a Washington-based group about to conduct a nationwide search for a new police chief at a meeting held at the Yerwood Center Monday night, they want a chief promoted from within the police department.

Speaker after speaker told Rebecca Neuburger and Charlotte Lansinger from the Police Executive Search Forum that the city needs a chief who knows Stamford at a meeting of about 30 people held at 5:30 p.m. at the West Side community center.

A second meeting with North Stamford residents held at the Harry Bennett Branch of the Ferguson Library attracted about 45 residents. The meetings were held following the announcement that Chief Jon Fontneau will be retiring from the department in early May.

West Side resident and Rev. Tommy Jackson told the group at the Yerwood who sat in a circle that the new chief has to be able to bridge the divide between rich and poor and Stamford is in some ways like the Charles Dickens book “A Tale of Two Cities.”

“We live in the best of times and we live in the worst of times. We have an impoverished community and we have a prosperous community. With all due respect to the current leadership of the police department, they have done a fairly good job, I must admit that. But it is an administration that has not been inclusive.” Jackson said, adding that there are no black officers currently in the department above the rank of sergeant.

But Jackson added that he would like to make it a requirement for the new chief to live in Stamford, or at least Fairfield county.

“I strongly believe that if you are part of the community, you are attached to the community and engaged with the community, it takes you a much longer way than if you are a carpetbagger,” he said.

Community Pastor Robert Jackson agreed. “I think what my brother said over here about staying in-house and looking for someone who is currently on the police force, being that they used to and accustomed to this area, would be beneficial,” Jackson said.

Jeff Stella, who represents District 9 on Stamford’s West Side and a 25-year veteran of the New York Police Department, said hiring local is crucial.

“What we are looking for in this police chief is the same thing anyone would be looking for in a police chief in any city. All the respect all the integrity all the honesty. The one thing I feel we have to have is someone who is from here,” Stella said. “Because the one thing I know from the police department (in New York) was the best chiefs we ever had were those who came up from the ranks. They know the city day in and day out.”

Michael Berkoff, who spent 21 years on the Stamford Police Commission, agreed that the best chief will come from within.

Berkoff said the department has a completely qualified candidate in Assistant Chief James Matheny.

“I think you need to have someone who has the knowledge of the city like Jim Matheny to navigate during these times, versus going out side and bringing in someone who doesn’t know the community,” he said.

Neuburger said that she and Lansinger will synthesize the recommendations she is hearing around town and bring them back to Mayor David Martin’s advisory committee that will be making recommendations on who to hire as a new police chief.

Present at last nights meeting at Yerwood were advisory committee members Tim Abbazia, Catalina Horak, Ted Jankowski and Michael Handler.