Special to South Florida Times
WEST PALM BEACH — The city moved a step closer to selecting a new leader for its police department after months of operating under two interim co-chiefs.
But one of the two finalists has dropped out, leaving only one person in the official race.
Mayor Jeri Muoio announced Friday that a short list of six candidates had been pared down to Vincent Demasi, 55, assistant chief of the Cincinnati Police Department, and Edmund Hartnett, 56, former police commissioner of the Yonkers Police Department in New York.
Muoio said in a statement released by her office that their years of experience and track records of proven leadership played heavily in their selection.
On Monday, Hartnett sent a letter to Muoio withdrawing his name for “family considerations.”
There was no indication this week whether the city would settle for Demasi or reopen the search to include the other four finalists.
They are interim co-chiefs Bryan A. Kummerlen and Maria Santos-Olsen, who have more than 25 years of experience each with the department; Frank G. Fernandez, who served as deputy chief of police/chief of operations with the Miami Police Department for seven years; and George E. Markert, executive deputy chief of police for the Rochester Police Department in New York for five years.
None of them is black. The last fulltime chief, Delsa Bush, who was appointed by former Mayor Lois Frankel, resigned abruptly last October amid reports of disagreements with newly elected Muoio.
The city hosted meet-and-greet sessions May 15 at the South Olive Community Center, 345 Summa St., and May 16 at Gaines Park, 1501 N. Australian Ave. in West Palm Beach to give residents a chance to get to know the six finalists.
Demasi and Hartnett both said they have had big city problems to deal with at their respective law enforcement command posts that would be similar to those of West Palm Beach, a city with a 33 percent black population.
Demasi said drugs and violence, as well as racial tensions, were issues he had to deal with in eight years as assistant chief in Cincinnati.
“There was a big influx of drugs and violence associated with it. We had an average of 500 shootings per year,” Demasi said. On race relations, he said a young black male was shot by police. “We needed to repair the community,” he said.
Harnett also cited repairing community relations and building effective rapport with officers as issues he had to deal with in his five years as Yonkers police commissioner.
He said there were complaints of racial bias and use of excessive force by officers that needed to be addressed and that included looking at diversity within the department.
“There were many neighborhoods with problems. Gangs and drugs destroy neighborhoods,” Hartnett said.
Coleman Park Neighborhood Association Vice President James Irving, who attended the Gaines Park meeting, said he wanted to hear what the candidates had to say. He plans to attend the West Palm Beach City Commission meeting when the new chief is selected to make sure that the choice will meet the needs of the community.
“We want more patrolling in the Northwest. We want a chief that’s going to reach out to the community,” Irving said. “Right now, the community does not trust the police. We don’t get the patrolling we’re supposed to get.”
Muoio said that the safety and security of West Palm Beach residents have always remained a top priority.
Photo: Delsa Bush