SOMERVILLE, Mass. — Manchester Police Chief David Mara stressed his belief in community policing and his Boston-area connections at a public forum on Wednesday for the candidates vying to head this city’s police force.
Mara is one of four finalists for the police chief post in this diverse city of 77,000 north of Boston. Two of the candidates, Michael Cabral and David Fallon, are deputy chiefs in the Somerville Police Department. The other candidate, Thomas Wydra, is the police chief in Hamden, Conn.
The forum took place at Somerville City Hall, where approximately 60 people filled the chamber. The questions posed to the candidates were submitted by members of the public; several of them concerned the treatment of gay people and minority groups.
In his opening statement, Mara noted that he met his wife at the Cambridge city hospital, where she still works.
“At the time, my dream was always to be a city cop,” Mara said. “The opportunity wasn’t there. I got the opportunity in Manchester, New Hampshire. I have three children. I’ve got a son in Boston who goes to law school and a son who just graduated college and is going to be sworn in as a Manchester police officer in a couple weeks.”
Mara has been with the Manchester Police Department for 28 years and has been its chief since 2008, when he was promoted from captain. Mara shook up the management hierarchy at the department and made a high priority of community policing, which is based on building relationships with schools and neighborhood and civic groups.
He said the process allowed him to learn about the many different communities in Manchester.
“I learned that some people sometimes look at police departments differently depending on where they came from. They could be refugees and where they come from, they’re going to look at the police as an occupying army,” he said. “What I learned is how to listen to what people have to say. It’s been a long learning process, and we’re still learning.”
The candidates were asked if they would be willing to work with the Gay Officers Action League of New England to make sure officers were sensitive to the concerns of the gay and transgender community.
All of them said they would.
“The best thing we can do with anyone different is not to treat them different, and this is through training,” Mara said.
The men were also asked how they handle complaints of police misconduct and were given the specific example of an officer who disparaged a caller that had a female name but a masculine voice.
Mara said he took all complaints of police misconduct seriously. “It’s about being accountable for actions,” he said. “If (people) make a complaint, they need to know that they will get satisfaction.”
Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone will be meeting one-on-one with the candidates over the coming days and is expected to narrow down the field to two finalists.