To the editor,
Many of us in the city and elsewhere were surprised to learn recently that police Chief Joseph Tavares had been relieved of his command. This came as a surprise to those of us who have known the Chief as an honorable man, of sterling personal character, and a credit to our community. This was also surprising because placing the Chief on administrative leave happened mere weeks after the state-ordained Budget Commission had withdrawn itself from day-to-day supervision of our city.
We will learn in good time what precipitated this action, or at least we’ll soon find out what happens next. The City Manager has said over and over that this is a personnel matter. As frustrating as that is to those of us looking to uncover the truth, it is truly an inappropriate matter for public discussion until a resolution is at hand. Besides being good HR practice, the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (R.I. Genl. Laws, 42-28-6) protects personnel matters from disclosure concerning all police officers, including the Chief, until they are resolved.
This administrative action was indeed surprising, but what wasn’t surprising at all was how quickly the situation devolved into political circus. No sooner had the City Manager helped the Chief clean out his desk, than the Mayor requested that the Budget Commission return. They did, quickly, and immediately resumed authority over hiring and firing.
At this point, another esteemed member of the Council, taking umbrage at the Mayor’s alleged interference in personnel matters, hastily filed a complaint against him, citing a violation of the city charter. This complaint, ironically, was filed with the East Providence Police Department, the very organization at the center of this drama.
Perhaps the Councilwoman had forgotten that, as recently as the December 18 Council meeting, under the agenda item Council Members New Business, she brought up the subject of procuring military surplus vehicles, or, as she called them, “freebies.” During the ensuing discussion, she proposed that the Council set up a brand new department under the direction of a specific police officer, authorized to “scoop up” unlimited amounts of military surplus. She said she felt this new department was necessary because the police officer had somehow been stymied in his quest for freebies.
The Chief (yes, the very same Chief Tavares) came to the podium and reasonably and calmly explained that the scooping-up program was working just fine as is, thank you, and that he didn’t wish to see the police yard turned into a junkyard. Besides, he said, there are very specific guidelines to follow, lest a police department be audited and potentially suspended for misuse of the program. The City Manager suggested that the Chief might look further into the program and report back. Not satisfied with that put-off, however, the Councilwoman offered her motion to create the new department. At this, the City Manager said, in effect, be my guest, but added that he himself would be charged with administering the department and that he had already given the Chief that authority. The motion withered away.
Did the Councilwoman, who is now appalled, incredulous, astonished and angry at the Mayor’s actions–and, besides, has hurt his feelings, have a change of heart since her similar actions in December? If the Mayor’s actions were “heinous,” as she has said, weren’t hers as well? If anyone should be appalled and incredulous–not to mention hurt, that privilege belongs exclusively to the taxpayers and residents of East Providence.