If he gets his way, Assistant Police Chief and 30-year New Haven Police Department veteran Douglas P. MacDonald will soon be packing his bags for Providence, R.I., to become its police department’s new chief.
MacDonald, who is one of five candidates for the position, interviewed in late March for the chance to lead the Providence department. The search committee in charge of the interviews will announce its decision on Tuesday and recommend its top choice to the mayor.
The NHPD declined to comment on MacDonald’s candidacy, and MacDonald has not returned repeated phone calls.
If MacDonald edges out his quartet of competitors, he will be joining a department that in many ways parallels the NHPD. Both departments are continuing to develop and implement “community policing,” where officers consistently patrol the same neighborhoods and get to know the residents on a personal level. Both departments have addressed the issue of urban policing in a university environment. And both departments have seen their share of controversy.
In New Haven, it was former head of detectives Brian Sullivan allegedly concealing evidence in a murder investigation, a lawsuit filed by former Saybrook College Dean James Van de Velde — the only named suspect in the murder of Suzanne Jovin ’99 — claiming the NHPD violated his civil rights, and, most recently, former officer John Goad on trial this month facing drug possession, larceny, and kidnapping charges.
In Providence this past year, two former officers were indicted for assaulting parking lot attendants over a $6 fee, an off-duty officer was accidentally shot and killed by two colleagues, and former Police Chief Urbano Prignano Jr. retired Jan. 31 amid allegations that a recruit gained entrance to the police academy after giving a $5,000 bribe to an influential businessman.
In addition, Providence’s mayor, Vincent “Buddy” Cianci Jr., is under indictment for racketeering, bribery and witness tampering. High-ranking Rhode Island authorities said that distancing the Providence police from the mayor’s office should be a goal for the incoming chief. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island’s attorney general, has said the new chief should be sure to make the department “completely independent from city hall.”
But when the search committee asked MacDonald about the NHPD’s involvement with New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., he replied that the two are anything but separate.
“If any police model or any program is going to succeed, it has to be supported from the top down,” he said. “We have a mayor that understands the value of the work that we do and supports it wholeheartedly.”
Many of MacDonald’s colleagues said he would make an excellent chief.
“He’s done great service for the NHPD, and that will be an asset to him whatever he chooses to do,” said Richard Epstein, the chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners.
Former Chief Nick Pastore, currently a police policy fellow at New Haven’s Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and the architect of the NHPD’s community policing initiative, said MacDonald’s community-minded approach to policing is “the only way to go.”
“He’s done almost everything in the department,” Pastore said of MacDonald, who has served in such varied areas of the NHPD as the detective bureau, narcotics enforcement, and a unit investigating white collar crime. “He’d make a great chief because he already has a vision for police work.”
But some Providence community activists disagree with Pastore. Angelo Adams, an organizer for Direct Action for Rights and Equality, said he would prefer a police chief with a clean slate who could bring a fresh perspective to the troubled department. He added that the controversy surrounding the NHPD does not cast MacDonald in a positive light.
“Even if he isn’t directly involved, if on his shift things are going crazy, why would we want him here?” Adams said.