PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – The Providence City Council finance committee voted on Tuesday to create and fund a new civilian post within the city’s police department, amid backlash to the hiring of a no -police officer at an important post in the police.
The panel also reduced the salary for the position and changed the job description. Budget changes must be approved by the entire city council.
The new administrative position comes after Michael Stephens, the city’s recreation director, was chosen to become the first-ever community relations and diversion specialist for the Providence Police Department.
Elorza’s decision to hire Stephens has drawn criticism as Stephens has no law enforcement experience which was originally a requirement for the job. (The job description was changed before Stephens was selected for the job.)
Providence City Council leaders said they felt they had approved and funded the new position up to $ 137,157 for a police officer. The job description included overseeing police training, for example, which Stephens did not do himself.
Police chief Hugh Clements was quick to say Stephens would not carry a gun, have no powers of arrest or be a sworn office. But the board decided to block Stephens from stepping into the high-ranking role by sending budget amendments to the board’s finance committee for review.
The council’s finance committee amended and then approved the ordinances Tuesday night, creating a new position of “community relations and diversion administrator” within the Providence Police Department.
A new job description says the administrator will serve as a liaison with the community, helping with police recruiting and the development of a “reduce police calls for service” diversion program, sending a few calls to more appropriate responders such as as mental health clinicians.
All reference to the supervision of police training has been removed from the job description.
Finance President Jo-Ann Ryan said appointing a civilian to lead the police role was not what Providence City Council planned, nor what Elorza said would happen when he first offered the job in January.
“When my colleagues on Providence City Council learned that a newly created important position within the Providence Police Department was held by a civilian with no police experience, we heard loud and clear from the police and community organizations. would create confusion about roles while also imparting highly skilled officers within the police department, ”Ryan said.
“We all agree on the importance of maintaining the integrity of the Providence Police Department while improving police-community relations,” said Providence City Council Chairman John Igliozzi, adding that the new civilian post “will do just that”.
Mayor Elorza has yet to commit to signing the amended ordinances.
“The mayor will have follow-up conversations with public safety officials to review what was submitted last night by the city council’s finance committee and determine next steps,” press secretary Andrew Grande said in a statement. E-mail.
Elorza had previously said he did not support the ordinances as written, ahead of the amendments made on Tuesday. He admitted hiring a civilian for the job was a surprise, but said Stephens was the best candidate.
In an interview with 12 News on Tuesday, Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said he fully supports Stephens’ appointment to the post. (Providence police officers also made a request.)
“He’s a young man born in town who has been here in town and has a lot of credibility in this community,” Paré said. “He could do a lot of good things structurally in the future. “
Paré also said that they “never intended for a civilian to become a police officer”, even though Stephens had been announced as the choice of the new major.
“First of all, it’s illegal,” he said. “You can’t just swear an oath to someone without the proper qualifications and training, so that was never the intention, but it was also wide open.”
But Paré said he disagreed with the decision to cut the post’s salary now that he has been reclassified to a civilian role.
“We still think it’s important that you compensate at this level because of the importance of the work, structurally, for the future,” he said. “I was disappointed that the pay scale was reduced. I think that sends the wrong message.
The new salary range is $ 99,517 to $ 115,193, down from the originally approved salary range of $ 116,666 to $ 137,157.
City spokespersons did not respond to repeated questions about the specific salary originally offered to Stephens.
The Council’s finance committee also selected a fifth major police station, which could eventually be staffed by a police officer.
Steph Machado contributed to this report.