MANCHESTER — The prospect of Police Chief David Mara leaving for Somerville, Mass., is being greeted with a mix of disappointment and understanding by members of the city’s police commission.
Mara is among four finalists for the top cop job in Somerville, a city of 77,000 north of Boston that shares some of the challenges facing Manchester, including drug-fueled crime and a large immigrant population. Manchester’s population is 110,000, according to the 2012 U.S. Census.
“It’s not unusual for senior officials to apply for other jobs; it’s the nature of the profession,” Manchester Police Commission Chairman Richard Bunker said on Tuesday.
The commission no longer has any authority over the hiring process for the police chief. The mayor would be responsible for nominating candidates, and the finalist would have to be confirmed by an eight-vote majority of the aldermen.
Should Mara get tapped for the job in Somerville, Manchester would be faced with a familiar question in finding a successor: whether to promote from within the ranks or hire from outside.
Manchester used to have three deputy chiefs, and in the past the top job has gone to one of the deputies. After he was named chief in 2008, Mara did not fill the vacant deputy posts, and he only recently appointed Nick Willard to be assistant chief. A veteran of the force and a graduate of the FBI Academy, Willard would likely be a top contender for the Manchester job.
Mara himself was promoted from within the ranks, but Mayor Frank Guinta went outside the chain of command to hire him when he was a captain. Mara was well liked by rank-and-file officers and was seen as a reformer.
Bunker said he hoped city officials wouldn’t limit their search, should it be necessary to hire a new chief. “It’s nice to bring people through the ranks, but it’s usually wise to have a broad outlook on these career searches,” he said.
Kudos and complaints
Mara has been credited with spearheading community-based policing, reaching out to immigrant groups and presiding over the move to a new headquarters. At the same time, he was drawn criticism for living outside the city, in the suburb of Bedford, and in recent years, the city has seen surges in crime. Mara has consistently lobbied for greater resources for the department.
The Somerville job could represent a substantial pay increase for Mara, who is paid about $140,000, according the city’s Human Resources Department.The salary of the outgoing chief in Somerville was $185,000, and a spokesperson for the department told The Boston Globe that this would be the upper range of the salary for the new chief.Somerville is a smaller department, with a budget in the 2014 fiscal year of $14.1 million. Manchester’s 2014 police budget was $21.2 million.
Mara is not a stranger to the greater Boston area. He was born in Chelsea, and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Northeastern University in 1984. Before he was a police officer, he worked at various hospitals in Cambridge and Boston, according to 2008 article in the Union Leader.
Police Commissioner Eva Castillo-Turgeon said she hoped Mara would stay, but she understood that people move on.
“He’s done a lot in the five years he’s been chief, just a lot in the community to include everybody and make sure people feel safe regardless of what country they come from,” she said.