After four turbulent years that included a struggle for power in the Jersey City Police Department, the demotion of one chief and the retirement of another, Mayor Steven M. Fulop and Public Safety Director James Shea have announced Mike Kelly is the city’s new chief of police.
After what the officials called careful consideration and a thorough interview process, Kelly, captain in charge of the West District, came out on top after what Fulop called “an exhaustive search” that included 40 applicants and a short list of six.
Fulop also appointed Tawana Moody as deputy administrative director of the police division. She is a 15-year civilian veteran of the department.
“After an extensive process, beginning with nearly forty internal and external candidates, we narrowed down the candidates throughout countless interviews,” said Fulop. “Ultimately, the decision was made Deputy Chief Mike Kelly was the best candidate to take on the role of Chief of the Jersey City Police Department.”
This is the first major appointment in Fulop’s second term as mayor and has already come under fire from some parts of the community, including State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, the widow of former Mayor Glenn Cunningham.
In the lead up to the announcement, there had been pressure on the administration from Cunningham and others to name a person of color to the post. And according to sources inside the administration, the short list included several.
“The candidate finalists were exceptional,” said Director Shea. “By accepting this position, Chief Kelly is also accepting responsibility for all the men and women of the police department every day. He is a proven, dedicated leader with the good of the citizens and police officers of Jersey City at the forefront of priorities.”
Council President Rolando Lavarro, although not part of the selection process, said Kelly was among six of “spectacular candidates.”
“Kelly has always run a tight ship,” Lavarro said. “I have confidence in his leadership abilities.”
Kelly, a 30-year JCPD veteran, called the selection process “grueling, but thorough,” and paid tribute to the other names on the list as well-qualified candidates.
Although Cunningham had suggested that a person of color be appointed, Kelly said his four year stint as the captain of the West District containing some of the toughest neighborhoods in the city had prepared him for the job.
Kelly said the safety of residents and police will be his top priority.
Both Fulop and Kelly admitted that the police department faces some serious challenges.
Fulop’s first choice for police chief in 2013, Robert Cowan, a strong political supporter, backfired in a struggle for power that forced Fulop to demote him as part of a reorganization effort. Philip Zacche, who replaced Cowan, retired in mid-2017 when the Shea restructured the department again. The department has been run by an acting chief while the city did a search for a new chief.
Meanwhile, the police department was involved with several scandals, one of which involved the indictment and conviction of some officers for falsifying off-duty work time sheets. Currently under indictment are several officers who were involved with a car chase and the eventual beating of an innocent bystander last June.
The department has also come under fire for its inability to contain gun violence in parts of the city.
Although murders were down in 2017, some violent crimes edged up slightly from 2016. Jersey City also saw its first gun shooting death on Jan. 1, a bad omen for a city constantly in fear of shootings.
The department is also currently undergoing yet another restructuring.
Fulop said the appointment of the chief is the first step in “huge plans” for the future of JCPD.
Shea called appointing a chief “a terrible gift,” because it put on the shoulders of the new chief awesome responsibilities.
Kelly’s background includes a strong blend of patrol and investigative work to include assignments of specialized natures; narcotics, homicide, major case and special assignment cases. This work has been accomplished as a police officer, detective and supervisor. Most recently, he was assigned as commanding officer in the West District.
“Working with the community, the police officers, and having a strong investigative background, I really feel I’m thoroughly prepared for this leadership role because of my experience,” said Kelly. “The police department, in its mission, must be community oriented and consistently strive to form strong and lasting bonds with all its citizens. Our plans we’ll lay out involve everyone working together to bring both residents and police officers safely home on a daily basis. I thank you for your trust.”
Kelly said in the past, he has applied and been tested for various promotions through various ranks from patrolman to captain.
“This is an appointment,” he said, calling it a position of trust. “I intend to live up to that trust.”
He said he will change the focus of the department from simply reporting the number of guns taken off the streets or the number of shootings that take place, and will focus on the number of people and police who safely make it home each day. He said he wants the community to have confidence in the police force and that he intends to strengthen the bonds between the police department and the community, working in partnership with the community.
“I plan to include all the talented people in the police department and bring us together so we can have a department we can be proud of,” he said.
Training, he said, will be key. Personnel will be trained to meet specific duties.
“I can’t focus 100 percent on crime prevention,” he said. “But I must also repair the trust inside and outside the department. We have some outstanding police officers who are integrity-rich.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.