Mayor Brett Smiley and former Providence Chief of Police Col. Hugh Clements presented the top three candidates for Providence police chief at a community forum Wednesday. The candidates — Providence Police Department Majors Kevin Lanni, David Lapatin and Oscar Perez — were asked questions based on results from a survey on leadership qualities and public safety priorities released to the public Jan. 13.
Smiley and Clements narrowed down these finalists from a pool of 11 applicants, according to Patricia Socarras, director of communications for the Smiley administration.
“The finalists that were selected best represented the ideal candidate; someone who (has) strong community relationships and is a dedicated public servant,” Socarras wrote in an email to The Herald. She noted that prior experiences and leadership skills were key factors in the selection process. All three candidates are longtime members of the PPD and attended Providence public schools.
According to Socarras, there were 1,008 responses to the public survey released by the mayor's office. In a Jan. 13 press conference, Smiley said that the survey was directed at “all that live, work or visit'' in Providence and prompted respondents to rank the qualities of a prospective chief by importance.
Respectful policing, community trust and response to crime were rated most important by respondents, according to Smiley. Ethics and integrity, accountability and justice for community members were listed as the most valued leadership qualities.
Public opinion was considered when creating questions to ask the candidates, Smiley said. The survey covered topics including gun violence, accountability within police departments, defunding the police and youth engagement.
Though each candidate responded to the questions publicly, the forum did not follow a debate structure. Instead, it was “a chance to hear, in their own words, their vision for the department, their view of police-community relationships and many of the other questions that were submitted,” Smiley said.
The event was also attended by the Direct Action for Rights and Equality, a Providence-based advocacy group that “organizes low-income families living in communities of color for social, economic and political justice.”
Prior to the event, DARE members rallied outside the meeting location, carrying signs reading “Body cams are not enough,” “end police brutality” and “abolish racist systems.” In a statement to the press outside the forum, Tunji Yerima, a member of DARE, expressed grievances over police brutality and the Rhode Island Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights, which protects officers from investigation into and prosecution of misconduct committed while on duty.
“No matter how many incidents surface, police continue to terrorize our communities with zero consequences,” Yerima said in the statement.
Many of these concerns were discussed in the forum, with candidates asked specifically about the LEOBOR policy. All three expressed interest in changing the policy, but none committed to abolishing it entirely.
Perez said that he would support changes that would allow the chief to “be more transparent with our community, and (give) the chief the authority to issue discipline properly,” he said. “When it comes to LEOBOR, these modifications are critical.”
The candidates all expressed the importance of accountability within the police department. Lanni said that a culture of accountability is essential for the prevention of abuse or brutality by officers. He emphasized addressing this environment before incidents arise. “Training and supervision are what we need,” he added.
The event was moderated by community members Cedric Huntley, executive director of the Nonviolence Institute — a group that conducts nonviolence training — and Mario Bueno, executive director of community organization Progreso Latino.
Socarras said that Huntely and Bueno were chosen because their work of bringing “critical resources and support” to the Providence community allows them to “understand the needs of our community.”
Smiley will announce the new chief of police within the coming days, according to a Feb. 7 press release.