City commissioners this week unanimously approved a new police civilian commander to oversee the department's administrative services division as part of Chief Ron De Pompa's structural overhaul to save costs.
In July, the new commander will supervise the Police Department's traffic and air support lieutenant, jail operations, records, property, communication and other non-sworn functions.
The commander will be in the same tier as a police captain, but city officials said the position will save the city $75,000 annually because the benefits and retirement costs are lower than they are for a sworn position.
“Ideally, what I'd like to do, I'd like to be adding like a full assistant chief. I'd like four captains. I'd like to have my 12 sworn lieutenants back that I had at one point in time,” De Pompa told the Civil Service Commission on Wednesday. “But that's not economic reality. The reality is that I have the same sworn staffing that the Police Department had in 1952.”
The new position is part of sweeping changes — including a reduction in command divisions and the creation of two pools of generalist detectives — starting this year at the Police Department.
With the department's budget cut by roughly $1.63 million, department officials implemented the latest changes in an effort to reduce overtime costs.
While the civilian position was approved, some civil service commissioners expressed concerns about giving a non-sworn employee command over certain police functions.
The position was brought before the commission because the initial job description included provisions that the non-sworn commander could act as police chief in his absence or assume control of crime and disaster scenes.
The description was modified to say the non-sworn commander may be assigned to represent the police chief in his absence, or assume policy-level command of an incident during an emergency or unusual circumstance.
Commissioner John Gantus took issue with allowing the non-sworn commander to have some policy-level command in an emergency incident, which could leave the city open to liability issues in potential litigation because the person may not be fully versed in public safety protocols.
“I don't mean to rattle cages, but let's assume a Sandy Hook [Elementary School shooting] situation came up here and we had this person there. We know there are going to be lawsuits arising from it,” he said.
De Pompa assured Gantus and other commissioners that he would only hire someone he had “absolute confidence” in.
In the instance of an emergency, he said sworn commanders will always be responsible for handling any scene. The non-sworn commander would be available to handle notifications to city staff, and address legal, liability and policy issues.
“I have been here 35 years and this is my hometown. This is where I am invested, and we would never ever jeopardize the safety of this community or efficient functioning of the department in any regard,” De Pompa said.