PORTSMOUTH — Thomas F. Lee, a senior commander in the Boston Police Department with 32 years of experience in law enforcement, was appointed the town’s new police chief in an unanimous vote by the Town Council Monday night.
Mr. Lee is expected to begin his new duties in Portsmouth on Oct. 21.
“I look forward to serving as your chief,” said Mr. Lee before he was sworn in as chief by Town Clerk Joanne Mower. “I’m honored with your selection. I promise I’ll be a fair and impartial enforcer of the laws of this town. I look forward to this great challenge.”
Mr. Lee, of Hanover, Mass., has served in a variety of positions in the Boston Police Department including commanding the Criminal Investigations Division, Special Operations Division and serving as a district commander for the city’s largest police district — leading 200 employees and serving 65,000 residents and 500,000 daily visitors. He also has 15 years of teaching experience.
He will succeed Jeffrey Furtado, a retired deputy police chief who’s been serving as interim chief since the retirement of Lance Hebert last December.
The council vote ratified the selection by Town Administrator John C. Klimm, who said the recruitment drew “a very strong field of candidates” — 84 total from 21 states.
Although one of the five finalists was from within the local police department, Mr. Klimm said Mr. Lee was a clear standout when considering his experience in senior leadership positions, his education, his awards and citations and the glowing reviews he received from colleagues and others.
“While I’m here to recommend someone who’s not from Portsmouth, I deeply respect those in the community who disagree,” said Mr. Klimm, who said his recommendation was no indication that he’s against hiring from within. The administrator noted that Fire Chief Michael Cranson and Deputy Chief Michael O’Brien both earned their positions from within their departments, and that the next police chief could very well be promoted from the inside as well.
“I owe it to you and the citizens and taxpayers of this town … to strive for excellence and improve our municipal operations at every turn. Our citizens deserve no less,” said Mr. Klimm.
Council member Keith Hamilton joined other members of the panel in supporting Mr. Klimm’s recommendation. Although some may disagree with the decision to go outside the ranks, Mr. Hamilton said, “It wasn’t a thin margin between the external candidate and the internal candidate,” he said, adding he wished that the Portsmouth applicant had a few more years of experience under his belt.
“I’m about as hometown as you can get in this town we love called Portsmouth,” said Council Vice President John Blaess, before adding that Mr. Lee’s background speaks for itself. “This time, this is the right choice for the town as we move forward.”
Several people in the audience who spoke applauded the council’s choice for the next police chief.
“We’ve kind of grown up in Portsmouth and we’ve started to attract very high-quality people,” said Larry Fitzmorris of Portsmouth Concerned Citizens.
One resident, John Vitkevich, expressed concern with the amount of money the town spent to recruit the new chief. According to Mr. Klimm, MRI Associates was paid $12,000 to assist in the recruitment and selection process.
Mr. Vitkevich said he hopes the new police chief will stay for at least “a good 10 years” so the town keeps its recruitment expenses down.
Responding to another question by Mr. Vitkevich, Mr. Klimm said there’s no residency requirement for the police chief’s job but that Mr. Lee and his wife, Mary, are looking for a rental in Portsmouth.
“I know a good Realtor,” quipped Mr Vitkevich, a real estate agent.
Of the 84 applicants, 18 submitted essay questions developed to provide town officials with information regarding skills, experience and training of the candidates and how that may relate to Portsmouth, Mr. Klimm said.
Of the 18 candidates who submitted essays, 13 were invited to participate in telephone interviews. “As a result of the telephone interviews, five candidates were invited to participate in an intensive two-day assessment center” exercises designed to present real-world interactive scenarios and written assignments to the candidates, Mr. Klimm said.
At the conclusion of the assessment center, MRI Associates, the firm hired by the town to assist in the recruitment and selection process, identified three candidates with a high probability of success in the position, but Mr. Lee was identified as “stellar,” Mr. Klimm stated.
“Mr. Lee excelled in all areas, has an extensive background in all facets of policing, and although he comes from a very large urban department, he lives in a community smaller than Portsmouth, and believes he will acclimate quickly to the environment,” Mr. Klimm said.”
Based on the MRI team’s significant interaction with Mr. Lee throughout the process and an extensive background investigation, the team recommended him without reservation and believes that he will not only (be) and excellent choice to lead the Portsmouth Police Department, but an asset to the greater Portsmouth community as well.”
Mr. Klimm said he interviewed Mr. Lee for two hours on Sept. 18. “I am convinced that Mr. Lee possesses the educational background, professional experience and leadership and integrity to lead our department to a new and higher level,” he stated.
The police chief will lead 33 officers and two civilian employees in a department that has a budget of about $4.8 million.