What does the search for Bridgeport’s top cops mean for Acting Chief Garcia?

BRIDGEPORT — When Connecticut’s largest city last launched a search for a permanent police chief, then-serving top cop Armando Perez made it clear he wanted the job, and the mayor and several members of the city ​​council wanted him to have it.

Four years later, and after Perez pleaded guilty in October 2020 to federal charges of cheating in that 2018 contest to secure the five-year contract, Bridgeport is on the hunt for his replacement.

But unlike her predecessor, acting chief Rebeca Garcia – who made local history as the first woman to lead the department – hasn’t said whether she intends to apply. And unlike four years ago, several influential council members are making it known ahead of time that they would prefer someone else to take charge of the force.

“So far I think she’s done a good job. But I think our department needs a fresh perspective,” said Councilman Jeanette Herron, who along with colleague Matthew McCarthy chairs the Legislature Contracts Committee.

This group of seven will ultimately vote on the hiring of Mayor Joe Ganim chosen as the new police chief, and four of its members are either openly against Garcia or hoping for other options.

When asked if it should be Garcia, McCarthy replied, “Absolutely not.”

“I think we just need someone new and fresh from outside the department to come and clean things up,” he said.

City Council President Aidee Nieves expressed similar sentiments earlier this month.

“I support Chief Garcia and the work she has done and has been able to accomplish, but overall the department needs a different look without a tainted vision that can foster new relationships and community bonds,” Nieves said.

Ganim announced this week that he had ordered the personnel department to launch a nationwide search for a leader that will result in the dispatch of three finalists. He will choose one and their contract will be submitted to the council for approval.

When asked if she was interested in moving from “acting” to permanent, Garcia replied in an email this week: “At this time, I will not be making an announcement as to whether I have decided whether or not to participate in the competitive tests.”

Perez, on the other hand, after two years as acting top cop at the end of 2017, publicly urged his close friend Ganim to start a search so he could try to get the contract and job security that accompanies him.

“I’m going to do my best” to be a finalist, said Perez, who joined the department in 1983, adding, “There are no guarantees.”

Still, it was no surprise when, in November 2018, Ganim picked Perez and the board pretty quickly approved the choice. Despite some opposition from community activists who felt that Perez lacked the management skills and independence needed to reform the force, he enjoyed the support of the mayor, many other elected officials and community leaders – in especially his fellow Cubans – who have all praised his long career and his community. ties.

In September 2020, Perez was arrested along with then-Personnel Director David Dunn for conspiring to help the former cheater become a finalist in 2018. In April 2021, Dunn was sentenced to four months in federal prison and Perez at a year and a day. . The ex-chief has just been released early.

Ganim put Garcia, who was promoted from captain to deputy chief in late 2019, in charge of the department after Perez’s arrest.

The mayor this week did not respond to a question about how he thinks Garcia is performing. But when asked if he would encourage her to seek the permanent position, Ganim replied: “The city encourages all capable and qualified people to apply.

“We want the most comprehensive competition and the full talent pool with the best possible candidates,” Ganim continued. “All should apply with the assurance (that) it will be a process of integrity and transparency.”

Does Garcia even have the qualifications to become a chef? Or could future search criteria be adapted to accommodate it? In 2018, for example, candidates for the post of chief were told that bachelor’s and master’s degrees and other law enforcement studies were “preferred” but not mandatory if they had 10 years of police experience. their assets, including five in a commanding grade.

This helped Perez, who had not graduated from college.

In February 2021, Hearst Connecticut Media submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Ganim administration for Garcia’s resume. Almost a year later, the city has not produced this document. However, a copy of Garcia’s resume from July 2019, filed in state superior court in a challenge to her promotion to deputy chief, shows she received associate’s degrees and completed various police/law enforcement courses.

According to that resume, Garcia joined the department in 1991 and commanded the domestic violence unit, the office of internal affairs, which investigates misconduct, and the academy.

Garcia has had some high profile challenges at her managerial since taking over from Perez. Last March, the police union held a vote of no confidence in him, although the then mayor’s office rejected the action, saying the vote “represents only 25% of the department (while) the remaining 75% voted for or chose not to participate.”

Last summer, the Guardians, representing minority officers, claimed that their black colleagues “are subject to a hostile work environment, unfair employment practices and unfair disciplines imposed by the acting chief (Rebeca ) Garcia”.

Then, in November, a state Superior Court judge, acting in a lawsuit brought by three Bridgeport police captains and an assistant police chief, ruled that Garcia had been improperly named chief. deputy in 2019. The city appealed this decision.

Thomas Bucci, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in that case, declined to comment on Garcia’s prospects of becoming the permanent top cop. Bucci, however, noted that one of his clients — Captain Roderick Porter — had a separate federal discrimination lawsuit pending against Bridgeport during the 2018 chief search. Porter, who is black, was one finalists that Ganim passed up for Perez.

“(Porter) is seeking redress to be named police chief,” Bucci said, adding that all of the Bridgeport officers he represents “have superior command experience to acting chief Garcia.”

Council members Jorge Cruz, Ernie Newton and Maria Pereira also sit on the contracts committee. Pereira said Garcia “has every right to apply” if she meets the qualifications and admires being a resident and a powerful woman.

But, Pereira continued, based on Garcia’s performance so far, “If she was selected and showed up in front of the contracts committee, I would definitely be a ‘no’.”

Pereira said there had been too much “chaos”, negative press and poor morale during Garcia’s brief tenure.

Newton said: “I think it might be time to get out of the local police department. It can bring a breath of fresh air.

Cruz, on the other hand, stated that if Garcia was a finalist and ultimately given a contract by Ganim, he would support her.

“I don’t think Rebeca Garcia is the problem with the Bridgeport Police Department,” Cruz said. “The problem is the unions and the other people in there. I don’t see Rebeca as the problem.

Cruz added, “I don’t believe a foreign police chief will be able to make the necessary changes. It’s wishful thinking. I would prefer to have an experienced candidate from Bridgeport.

The two remaining members of the contracts committee – Rosalina Roman Christy and Avelino Silva – could not be reached for comment.

Brandon D. James