Council to Discuss Police Commissioner Position

The reconvening of the Chelsea City Council from its summer recess this coming Monday, Sept. 9, likely won’t be a muted meeting with cordial discussions about summer vacations and successful fishing trips.

In fact, according to some councillors, there will be some controversial proposals right off the bat.

This week, District 5 Councillor Joe Perlatonda put in a motion for the Sept. 9 meeting calling for the implementation of a Police Commissioner in Chelsea that would oversee the Police Chief and City Manager in matters of public safety.

“The Police Chief is doing a good job I think, but it’s not enough,” said Perlatonda. “The Chief did a good job of rounding everyone up and cleaning things up in Bellingham Square, but the problems are back again. We had two shootings last week and so maybe it’s time to get a Police Commissioner in here to oversee how the chief and city manager are doing. Maybe we can finally get some headway in getting officers walking the streets.”

Perlatonda and some other councillors have been very vocal this summer about the perceived dangerousness in some of Chelsea’s neighborhoods, particularly in the center of the City near City Hall. Several shootings and violent incidents and recurring drug activity have highlighted the summer and brought more of a focus on public safety. Meanwhile, a handful of councillors – most especially Perlatonda – have been disappointed in the fact that Chelsea Police officers are not walking a Broadway beat despite a unanimous vote by the Council calling for just that.

Councillors have been critical about not receiving monthly reports from the Police about activity also, but Police Chief Brian Kyes recently pointed out that all of those statistics are available online for the Council and the public.

At least two other councillors are in Perlatonda’s corner on the issue, but others are not ready to comment on the matter this week.

Perlatonda said he would like to force a roll call vote on the matter, but has agreed to allow the motion to be sent to a Subcommittee on Conference in order to further discuss the idea.

“I would prefer a roll call vote because any councillor who says their not for increased public safety would make themselves look bad because the residents are concerned about this issue,” he said. “However, I think we’ll send it to conference to discuss it first. We need to come up with how we would conduct a search, the salary requirements and a job description. Boston and Cambridge have police commissioners and I talked with officials there and it seems to be working well for them.”

Councillor Leo Robinson said he would have preferred a slower approach to the issue, and indicated he has proposed recently to have a Public Safety Commissioner that would oversee Police and Fire.

“For me I think he jumped the gun a little bit and I think there should have been some further discussion,” he said. “There were some things I talked about concerning this already. I proposed to do a study on whether there should be a Public Safety Commissioner overseeing police and fire. That was my thought – not to single out just the police. It would make sense to me to study that idea.”

Perlatonda’s motion picks up where the Council left off prior to the summer recess, where a handful of councillors seemed to be heading in a different direction than the rest of the body. The Council for some time has been quite unified in its approach to City matters, but recently there has been two different trains of thought emerge.

That somewhat new development on the Council has the insiders in local politics looking very shrewdly at the upcoming Nov. 5th City Election – probably for the first time in quite some time. That election could widen the support for those, like Perlatonda, who are calling for more radical changes to the structure of the City.

Two District councillor challengers are seen as likely allies of the new group, and are certainly viable candidates in the races.

It is unlikely that there will be a majority of councillors who will support Perlatonda’s Police Commissioner idea, but that likely won’t keep the Council from discussing it.

For his part, Perlatonda said he is just looking to improve public safety in his ward and not looking to mount his re-election campaign (he faces noted challenger Henry Wilson) on the issue.

“I don’t want my constituents coming up to me and telling me that they’re having to hire a bodyguard, essentially, to walk their kids to an after-school program at the Boys and Girls Club because they’re scared of what might happen during daylight hours,” he said. “A woman in my district told me that and I think that’s unacceptable. Like I said, I’m not suggesting the chief is not doing a good job, but only that more needs to be done.”

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