By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Residents of New Smyrna Beach were given an opportunity to meet and chat with the final candidates for the city's next Police Chief.
"We want our citizens to meet the candidates," City Manager Pam Brangaccio said. "This is an important decision for our community, so we really would like to know their impressions of the candidates."
Seven men were selected from more than 150 applications collected by the International Association of Police Chiefs, which administered the nationwide search. The semi-finalists were given a tour of the city prior to the reception on Wednesday, March 27, to gather information about the city to determine if they are going to be a good fit.
The semi-finalists attending the reception were George E. Markert, director of the Office of Public Integrity in Rochester, N.Y.; Dennis M. Jones, Tallahassee police chief; James L. Cetran, police chief in Wethersfield, Conn.; Michael Brouillette, interim police chief in New Smyrna Beach; Laren J. Zager, police chief in Fairbanks, Alaska; and J. Michael Deal, Deputy Police chief in Altamonte Springs. John S. Bukata, former police chief of Oakland Park, did not attend.
"I am humbled and proud to be part of this group of individuals," said George Markert in reference to his fellow candidates. He has been in law enforcement for more than 42 years with experience in larger departments as an executive deputy police chief. "I am looking for a good fit and I think New Smyrna is that fit. I want to be part of the team leading the direction of this city." Mr. Markert feels relationship building is fundamental to keeping crime rates down. "It's all about relationships -- get out and meet the people and get to know them," he said. "You will see me out in the community. I will be a part of it. We are your police department and we work for you."
Dennis Jones sees his role as police chief as being available and determining what the community's needs are. "I think (the job) continues to serve the community and it is important to find out what their expectations are," Mr. Jones said. "Being available and being visible are important. I will bring a lot of enthusiasm and transparency to the department. This community already has a great police department and I want to be a part of it and bring it into the community." Originally of Daytona Beach, he felt he was returning home and stated his lifelong dream of running a small town police department. "I will bring integrity, professionalism and enthusiasm."
"I can't think of anything that has happened that I haven't handled from major crimes to problem employees," said James Cetran in reference to his background. Mr. Cetran has been in law enforcement for more than 39 years in a city on the edge of Hartford, Conn., that is 70 percent minorities. "We bridged the gap by going out into the community, attending community functions and meeting the people. We deal the same with everyone anywhere -- crime is crime." Mr. Cetran was impressed by the tour of the city. "You have a beautiful city and have already thought of the future. I was impressed with the new high school with the fence around it and the new police department building," he said. "I know what the economic downturn has done and what budget problems are. We need to find out what the needs in the community are and determine how best to get what is needed."
Crisis intervention training is a program Mr. Cetran said he implemented in Wethersfield. The training has significantly cut down on crime and homelessness in his community.
Michael Brouillette has been acting as the interim police chief of New Smyrna Beach while the search is being conducted. He was the deputy police chief and has more than 26 years in the department. Mr. Brouillette said he is a "hands-on" manager and likes to speak with the officers regularly about what is happening in the community. "I attend every community function I can and try to hear about problems first-hand," he said.
"New Smyrna Beach means much more to me than just a job. I love this community and I have really grown to know it well." He said he has insight on how to move forward with the department and provide protection to the citizens. "The city has an awesome management team and I am proud to be a part of it to provide public safety and public service to its citizens."
When asked how he plans to handle the parking issues on beachside, Mr. Brouillette said, "It is a work in progress. We have a task force that is about to present some recommendations to the city. We are all trying to work through it and find some real solutions to the problem."
Laren Zager, who is nearing retirement from the police department in Fairbanks, Alaska, has more than 45 years of service in law enforcement. He said he is trying to determine if he is a good fit for New Smyrna Beach. With family ties to Florida on his mother's side he feels New Smyrna Beach is like coming home in some ways. He stated public safety is his main concern. "There are some similarities between New Smyrna Beach and Fairbanks, but Fairbanks has a huge problem with gangs and drugs. It is all still police work no matter where you are."
Mr. Zager said he is most proud of his police work overseas, because of all the things he learned about other culture's way of dealing with crime. "The value of observation is key," he said. "If chosen, I will have to see how the department runs and where to make improvements. Change just for the sake of making change is not a good thing."
When asked how he liked the tour of the city, Mr. Zager said, "I am impressed with all of the improvements and the business growth. There's a lot going on here and my hat is off to Mike for keeping up with all of it."
Michael Deal compares New Smyrna of today to Altamonte Springs of 20 years ago. "The department then was just about the same size as New Smyrna Beach's is today. I have seen a lot of change and worked in just about every area within the department." He pointed out four things the citizens should know about him, "First, I want to be your police chief. Second, I have the experience to understand the future growth in a municipal state in central Florida."
With more than 31 years with the Altamonte Springs police department, Mr. Deal has been involved with most aspects of a growing police force and city. "We went from around 50 officers to the 130 we have now." The third thing Mr. Deal wanted to point out was that he intends to bring enthusiasm, integrity and credibility to the position. "I have a passion for the job and I believe in visibility and accessibility. I will be out there in uniform in the community and not behind a desk all the time." He said he understands the citizens want to keep the small town feel in the city. "The leadership in this city is highly respected and I want to be a part of that team." Mr. Deal had one more thing to say, "I want this job!"
The candidates spent the following day in interviews with various city officials and Ms. Brangaccio will make a recommendation. The final decision will be made by the city commission possibly as early as April 23.