You get what you pay for with Esserman

Last night, Channel 6 featured the second installment of Jim Hummel's look at the Providence Police Department, focusing this time of the salary and benefits of Police Chief Dean Esserman. Co-anchor Allison Alexander, in introducing the piece, said she thought a lot of people would be surprised by the information, but, as Matt pointed out yesterday, much of this was reported more than four years ago by Amanda Milkovits in the ProJo:

After a three-hour meeting with Esserman, Cicilline decided he'd found his next chief. He was going to use all he had to get Esserman here.

Cicilline arranged meetings with the state's top law enforcement players. He assured Esserman City Hall wouldn't interfere with the Police Department. He offered a four-year contract, starting at $138,000 (about $50,000 more than previous chiefs made) with $5,000 annual raises. Plus, inclusion in the city pension, which takes 10 years to be fully vested, and a portable pension.

The city would pay travel and living expenses for the first six months. Esserman bought a half-million dollar home on the East Side, and was reimbursed for $5,300 travel and moving expenses and $3,700 closing and house- inspection costs. He was also permitted to bill the city for his outside expenses as chief.

Cicilline also got Esserman a spot as senior law enforcement executive in residence at the Roger Williams University Justice System Training and Research Institute for $30,000 a year. The position in the university's School of Justice Studies is funded by a private grant.

Personally, I think the important question is not so much one of Esserman's pay and benefits, but whether hiring him was a smart decision, and whether he has succeed edin significantly improving what had been a very troubled police department. The answer to those two questions, IMHO, is "Yes."

For a sense of where things were  in 2001, consider this:

Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse is among those who have pressured [Buddy] Cianci to consider outside candidates for the permanent chief's job. "Somebody who is inside the department, as long as they bring an outsider's independence and judgment, can do a good job and will have the additional advantage of knowing the personal and administrative terrain," Whitehouse says. But that's clearly a pretty difficult standard to meet, and, as the prosecutor says, "I think it will get worse before it gets better as the Justice Department inquiry, Plunder Dome, and all those things go forward."

In looking at the best and worst of David Cicilline in 2006, I wrote:

Not that long ago, the Providence Police Department was caught in a dysfunctional cycle that ill-served residents, particularly in poor parts of town, and reflected badly on the department itself. Cicilline moved quickly to make a firm break with the past by choosing Dean Esserman, the kind of outsider needed to bring long-overdue change, as the department’s new chief.

Activists credit Esserman and his emphasis on community policing with dramatically improving how the city and the police are perceived on Providence’s South Side. There remains room for improvement in getting more officers to embrace the spirit of community policing. But one observer goes so far as to say that Esserman’s lack of tolerance for abuse, as well as a number of retirements within the department, have transformed what had been one of the bigger scars in the city into a badge of honor.

Esserman can be short-tempered with the media, a trait that has not endeared him to some. Some cops might not like him because of his untraditional background, or because he changed the status quo. Such things are less important than his achievements in Providence.

Bob Walsh has an acute political sense, so I think he knows about what he speaks, in making this response on Matt's blog yesterday.


If the next election for Mayor of Providence turns into a referendum on the police chief, the candidate who vows to keep Chief Esserman in place wins.  It really is as simple as that.

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