One week before Christmas, Arlington found itself lacking a top cop, as Chief Edward Flynn left the county to become Secretary of Public Safety under new Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R).
But the vacuum didn’t last long, as County Manager Ron Carlee announced Dec. 31 that Deputy Chief Stephen Holl, a 29-year veteran of the police department, would step in as acting chief of police.
County Manager Ron Carlee announced Dec. 31 that Holl, then one of four deputy chiefs of the department, would serve as acting chief while county officials conduct a national search for a full-time replacement for Flynn. Local police officers support the move but are already expressing concerns about the process of selecting a full-time replacement.
Holl has served on the SWAT team, as commander of special operations and most recently as a Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness specialist with the county manager’s office.
“It was a tough decision because we’re blessed with a lot of talent in our police departmen,” said Carlee. But ultimately Holl was the logical choice because “he has a very diverse police experience within the Arlington police department,” Carlee said, and because he is “extraordinarily well-respected” by the rest of the department.
Ken Dennis, the president of the Arlington Coalition of Police, the police union, said naming Holl acting chief was “an excellent decision.”
MAINTAINING STABILITY in the department will be one of Holl’s main goals as acting chief. “Generally we’re doing pretty well,” he said. So he will work to continue effective programs, such as weekly meetings with officers to discuss strategies for crime prevention and investigation.
Carlee said departmental stability proved a motivating factor in Holl’s selection. “We have four deputy chiefs, any one of whom certainly could have done an excellent job,” said Carlee. Since Holl was serving on special assignment to the county manager’s office, he was the only deputy chief who could be promoted without disrupting other tiers of command.
But Holl warrants the job on his own merits, Carlee said. “Clearly he’s someone I that I trust a lot and have a lot of confidence in,” he said.
Police departments face increasing challenges today, and cooperation among departments and between law enforcement, fire and rescue departments is more important than ever, Holl said. Neighboring jurisdictions teaming up for “mutual aid assistance,” will be an important aspect of police work in the future, he said.
He has recent experience in mutual aid assistance with DC police during the World Bank protests, the Marine Corp Marathon and the Army 10-Miler. “We’ve worked with them very successfully for all those events,” he said.
They’ve been important exercises for Holl, exercises in building trust with other departments and with members of the community. Working at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, Holl got a first-hand look at the importance of trust.
Police and fire personnel worked together at the site of the Pentagon attack, as a frightened public looked to men and women with badges for support. “You have to build trust before the event,” said Holl.
CONFIDENCE AND EXPERIENCE within the department may not be enough to secure Holl the full-time position though. “It really is an open recruitment,” said Carlee. “I’m going to be very aggressive on the recruitment. I feel we owe it to the department and the community.” Carlee hopes to complete the hiring process within 90-days.
Holl said he understands the need for a national search. “Certainly I want the people of Arlington to have the best chief possible,” he said.
But the national search is cause for concern to some long-time members of the department, said Dennis. “I think the majority of the police department would look toward an insider taking that position,” he said. “I think we have a couple of candidates within the department that would make excellent candidates, Steve Holl being one of them.”
Dennis has met with Carlee to discuss the union’s concerns for the hiring process, and Carlee has solicited feedback from officers. But that may not be enough to satisfy police.
“I think the police department is looking for a little more than just being able to write and give their comments,” said Dennis. He is pushing to have a police representative sit in on the final hiring process, with authority to determine interview questions for applicants.
“We’d like to ask what police programs they’ve enacted in departments that they’ve run. We’d like to ask them where they see themselves in five years; is this just a stopover?” he said. ACOP is set to distribute a survey to determine officers’ preference for the new chief.
The county needs a chief who, like Holl, wants to call Arlington home for an extended time, Dennis said. “If they’re part of the family, that’s fine, they just have to prove it,” he said.