of Rick Gregory to be chief of the New Castle County
police force appears likely but not perfunctory
after his appointment drew both strong endorsement
and objection at a hearing before County Council's
public safety committee.
Joe Blackburn, one of the
representatives of the International Association of Chiefs
of Police which screened finalist candidates, testified that
Gregory "was by far the top candidate" when judged by a
series of command exercises administered objectively.
By so saying, he endorsed an
introductory remark at the committee meeting on Sept. 11 by
chief administrative officer Jeff Bullock, who referred to
Gregory as "one of the very best candidates for chief
available in the United States."
At a recent meeting of
officers of areawide 'umbrella' civic associations, County
Executive Christopher Coons described Gregory as "head and
shoulders above" others brought forward by a national
However, Joseph Lavelle,
president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge which
serves as the union for county police through the rank of
senior lieutenant, told the public safety committee that an
outsider was not the best choice to lead what Lavelle
described as an "already demoralized" force.
"I'm not so sure a state
police officer from Florida is going to solve these
problems," he said. "Our preference was that a candidate
from within the police department be selected."
Contrary to usual practice
when interviewing appointees for various positions in county
government that are subject to Council approval, the 10
Council members who attended the committee meeting avoided
giving any indication of their leanings. Like all standing
committees, the public safety committee is comprised of all
13 members of Council.
Only four -- committee
chairman William Bell, Council president Paul Clark, John
Cartier and Robert Weiner -- participated in the discussion.
Timothy Sheldon and William Tansey, who had attended another
committee meeting earlier in the afternoon, did not attend
the public safety meeting. Jea Street was absent from both
Since his selection by Coons,
Gregory is said to have met privately with all or most
members of Council.
A vote on whether to confirm
him is on the agenda for Council's plenary session on Sept.
Asked by Bell to respond to
Lavelle's testimony, Gregory said that "morale is something
that changes very quickly."
He said he favors a
'hands-on' management style. "I'm not one you'll find
surrounded by people and sitting behind a desk," he said. "I
don't believe in coming into an organization ... and turning
it upside down."
He added that his "first goal
[will be] to get as much 'input' as possible not only from
senior officers but [also] from the rank and file of the
County attorney Gregg Wilson
said that, while the police chief serves at the pleasure of
the county executive, he also is protected from arbitrary
dismissal by the state law referred to as the police chiefs'
bill of rights.
Lavelle remarked that former
chief David McAllister's job also was covered by the
county's civil service merit system, "but he (Coons) found a
way to get around that."
While the union official did
not specifically refer to him by name, it is generally known
that there has been strong support within the county force
for Scott McLaren, who has been serving as acting chief
since McAllister agreed to resign.
McAllister had been
suspended during an investigation into management of the
former arrangement for officers' off-duty assignments. He
was not accused of any wrongdoing. McAllister was considered
to be a protégé of former County Executive Tom Gordon,
Coons's predecessor in that office.
Coincidently, Council on
Sept. 12 also will vote on a measure to provide additional
money for the fund from which officers who take voluntary
off-duty assignments are compensated. Financial officer
Michael Strine said that commercial and nonprofit
organizations which contract for such services now pay $56
an hour, up from $53.50 last fiscal year. The fee would have
to be about $10 higher in order to fully compensate the
county for providing the service, he said, but "we want to
be competitive with city (Wilmington) and state [police] and
be fair to nonprofits."
Gregory, who is deputy
director for field operations with the Florida Highway
Patrol, said that agency's mission has changed significantly
since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, moving it from
predominantly a traffic-law enforcement agency to a
full-service police department. Most policing in Florida, he
said, is done by municipal and county forces and sheriffs.
"Cops are cops and I think
we're all in it for the same thing -- to make our
communities safer," he said.
Clark asked why he was
interested in relocating to Delaware. "I don't have a love
and a burning desire to remain in Florida. We've been two
years dodging torturous hurricanes," he replied. Gregory is
a native of Utah but has lived in Florida since childhood.
His wife is a native Floridian.