Allentown should have a new police chief by October.
And city residents will have two opportunities to help pick that chief — the first in just a few weeks.
Allentown Police Chief Roger MacLean is retiring before the end of this year, along with most of his command staff.
“The selection of a police chief is not a task I take lightly,” said Mayor Ed Pawlowski. “Public safety is the most important job we undertake in local government. It’s the building block for a strong and thriving community.”
The city has hired Robert Wasserman to help recruit and select a new chief.
Wasserman is chairman of Strategic Policy Partnership, which is based in West Tisbury, Mass. Pawlowski called him one of the nation’s top policing and security experts and said he has done similar work in many of the nation’s largest cities.
Wasserman is being paid $30,000 by the city to help with the job search.
The mayor introduced him to members of City Council during their public safety committee meeting Wednesday night.
“Allentown is an attractive location for somebody who wants to be a chief because it is a vibrant city and the police department has quite a good reputation,” said Wasserman.
“There are lots of young, active, caring officers in the department. Crime has gone down regularly over the last few years.”
“We’ve had six straight years of reductions in crime,” said the mayor. “Not many cities in the commonwealth or across the country could say that.”
Pawlowski said Chief MacLean already is looking at several post-retirement opportunities “and if one of those opportunities comes to fruition, he may leave sooner rather than later.” If that happens, he said an assistant chief will become acting chief until a new chief is appointed.
In addition to MacLean, others retiring include Assistant Chiefs Joseph Hanna and Daniel Warg and Captains Daryl Hendricks and Dean Schwartz –plus several veteran lieutenants.
The mayor said a total of 14 senior officers are retiring before the end of the year.
“We are now seven months away from the time when they will all be moving on,” said Pawlowski. He said internal interviews already are being done in the department to replace some of those officers from the ranks.
The mayor said the city has hired 80 new police officers in the last several years.
“This is a very young department,” he said, adding the average is 9.6 years of service. He said several young officers are sergeants, lieutenants and captains.
Wasserman said the chief’s position is open to members of the city police department as well as external candidates. He stressed no candidate is favored for the job.
“We have a great opportunity for the right person who is energetic, who has drive and passion for policing, to really take this department and lead it to new levels,” said Pawlowski.
Wasserman said the base requirements will be the individual must have the rank of lieutenant or higher in experience and be certified as a police officer in Pennsylvania.
He said the city also wants someone who understands and has experience in an urban environment with a highly diverse population.
Wasserman stressed what Allentown doesn’t want “is someone from another city who says ‘I can retire and now become chief of police in Allentown’. We have found through experience that people like that from larger cities ‘say I can have an easy job if I go to a small department’.
“Secondly, we do not want somebody who wants to bring in a whole crew of people with them as managers in the department.” He said it will be clearly included in the advertisement for the position that if a new chief comes from outside the city, he or she will be expected to develop the command staff from within so the next chief chosen will be someone in the department.
Pawlowski promised selecting a new chief will be a transparent process “with substantial public input,” except “we will maintain the confidentiality of candidates’ names until the finalists have been selected, so the job security of the applicants is protected.”
At the upcoming first public forum, said Wasserman, residents to tell the city what attributes they think a police chief should have and what challenges that chief should anticipate in policing the city.
A date and time for that forum have not yet been set, but Wasserman said it may happen in just two or three weeks. He said information gathered at that forum could be incorporated into the job description for the new chief.
Pawlowski said one thing he assumes will come out of that first forum is “it would be great if the new chief is bilingual.”
The mayor said Wasserman also will conduct interviews with police, including the FOP, key community leaders and individually with members of City Council to get input on the next chief. That information also will help Wasserman formulate a job description, which will be advertised in major police publications.
After the job is advertised, applications will be accepted for four or five weeks.
“Eventually, we hope to get six to eight candidates who will be brought to Allentown for interviews,” said the mayor. “That group will be narrowed to three or four candidates.”
He said those finalists will appear at a second public forum “to see how they interact and interview with the general public.”
The mayor said that second forum probably will be “toward the middle or end of summer.”
The candidates will make presentations and be asked questions from the audience, explained Wasserman. “You get a very strong sense of the candidates in that environment.” He recommended members of City Council attend that forum to see how candidates do and to share their observations with the mayor.
Those finalists also will meet again with the police union and other members of the department, explained Wasserman. After that, the mayor will make the final selection of an appointee, who must be approved by City Council.
Not happy about previous city administrators being hired and going to work before council approved their appointments, council member Jeanette Eichenwald made it clear to the mayor that council should confirm his appointee before that man or woman actually takes office as chief.
Pawlowski said every letter sent by the city that offers employment to cabinet level candidates includes a provision that employment is conditional, subject to approval by City Council.
More directly responding to Eichenwald’s concern, he said: “With this particular position, because it’s so high profile, I doubt anybody will want to leave their current place of employment before they are confirmed by City Council.”
City Council vice president Ray O’Connell said with all the economic development underway in Allentown – including the new hockey arena-- the police department will play a vital role in making sure people feel safe about coming into the city.