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Police chief abruptly quits
By Andrew Lightman/ Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Police Chief Jose M. Cordero ended his troubled tenure in Newton yesterday, halting the former New York cop's 28-month stint in the Garden City.
Cordero's abrupt decision to quit drew mournful sighs from City Hall and cheers within police headquarters, where many of his officers resented Cordero's numbers-driven approach to policing and his inability to relate to the rank-and-file.
Superintendent Robert MacDonald will serve become Newton acting police chief until a permanent replacement is be found. MacDonald, a 36-year veteran of the police department, was also acting chief in 2001 and 2002, after Chief Frank Gorgone retired.
Perhaps learning from his controversial decision to hire Cordero, a 20-year New York police veteran, Mayor David Cohen said he expects to hire the next chief from within the current ranks.
The chief, meanwhile, departs without another job lined up, although he claimed he has several career options before him.
"It's a personal decision that I made [to leave], and I felt good making it at the time," Cordero said.
Cordero came to Newton in February 2002, after serving as an inspector for the NYPD in Queens. Known for reducing robberies, burglaries, homicides and shootings, and for arresting hundreds of gang members, Cordero's critics questioned whether he was the right fit to run a suburban police department.
Now, after just 28 months on the job, Cordero will officially step down sometime next week.
But the length of his tenure, Cordero said, is irrelevant.
"The police department has not only met, but exceeded every goal we set when I was hired," Cordero said. "My job here is largely done."
"In this case it took two-and-a-half years to bring about our major changes," he added. "If it took five years, I would have stayed five years. If it took 10 years, I would have stayed 10 years."
By resigning, Cordero opted out of the remaining two-and-a-half years on his five-year contract. Cordero also forfeited his sick leave because he failed to give 120 days notice, the city comptroller said, but he will be paid for his remaining vacation.
During some tough budget years, Cordero said he was able to upgrade the department's technology and put more officers on the street. The crime rate has dropped, he said, and there are fewer traffic accidents than before.
"In terms of real results, accidents, injuries, I think our results are immeasurable," Cordero said.
Cordero said he also had to deal a number of vocal critics, including the media.
"It's probably a good move for him and it's probably a good move for the city," said Alderman Scott Lennon, one of Cordero's acknowledged opponents. "There have been too many inquiries and too many questions over the two-and-a-half years."
Noting the low police department morale, Lennon said he hopes the next chief will work to lessen tension in the ranks.
"We've got to get back to business," Lennon said, "where guys want to come to work and serve the citizens of Newton."
Rank-and-file officers, meanwhile, were said to be elated to hear that their chief is leaving.
"All my men are somewhat jubilant," said Jay Babcock, president of the Newton Police Association. "Today is the first day I've seen people smile so much."
Babcock said his union gave the chief a three-month grace period when he was first hired. And since, he and the other officers have suffered through two years of labor, equipment and morale problems, Babcock said.
"What he's accomplished, I don't know. But personally, the union thinks he's mismanaged," Babcock said. "He's come in and destroyed the place."
From the beginning, Marc Gromada, president of the Newton Police Superior Officers Union, who applied for the chief's job back in 2001, said Cordero was a bad fit.
"He came from a department where there was a lot of crime," said Gromada. "We don't have that kind of crime here."
Though Cohen and Cordero say the chief made the decision to leave, Gromada believes Cordero's exit was not voluntary.
"He definitely got fired," Gromada said. "Read between the lines. He got fired today, it's pretty obvious. He doesn't have a job. Why would he get up and leave?"
But Cohen and Alderman Christine Samuelson, two of Cordero's most ardent defenders, say they are disappointed to see the chief go.
"My main feeling is one of gratitude to this chief, who has served this city well," said Cohen. "In short, the city of Newton is a safer place due to the outstanding job done by Chief Jose Cordero."
"I think it's a real loss for the city," Samuelson said. "He did a lot with a little."
Samuelson worked with Cordero as chairwoman of the public safety and transportation committee of the Board of Aldermen, and saw firsthand the impact he had on managing traffic problems, she said.
"It was the first time that neighborhoods came in with complaints and we got results," Samuelson said. "Neighborhoods were feeling that they were getting responsiveness from the police department."
Samuelson, who helped select Cordero over a group of internal candidates for the chief's position nearly, said hindsight has only strengthened her belief she made the right choice.
"I think we could have chosen one of the in-house captains and one group might have supported him and another group wouldn't have," Samuelson said. "I don't know how to address 'fit,' but it seemed to me that he was head and shoulders above the rest."
Cordero, meanwhile, praised his command staff and the rank-and-file officers who patrol the city's streets as he said goodbye.
"It's not what I have been able to accomplish," Cordero said. "It's what the department has been able to accomplish."
"To the citizens, I'd like to thank them for allowing me to serve as their police chief," he added. "I hope that at the end of the day they feel the city is a lot safer and the police department is working a lot harder than it was before."
Andrew Lightman can be reached at [email protected].

Scott :pc:
 
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