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Four candidates in forefront for chief position


As the city’s former top cop settles into his new job as Essex County sheriff, the search for a new chief is on.

Four of the seven eligible candidates have applied to replace Kevin Coppinger. The hopefuls, including Acting Chief Leonard Desmarais, Deputy Chief Michael Mageary and Capts. Mark O’Toole and Michael Vail will face a team of interviewers on Jan. 23.

MMA Consulting Group Inc., a  Plymouth-based company provides a so-called Assessment Center comprised of an expert panel that interviews the candidates, asks their responses to real-life situations and grades them. They will recommend the top three picks to the Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, who makes the selection. The job pays upwards of $100,000 a year.

Kennedy could not be reached for comment. But Joseph Driscoll, the city’s personnel director, has said previous mayors have always selected the screening committee’s top-rated person.

Some say Coppinger, 59, a third generation cop, will be hard to replace. His father was a captain, his uncle was a detective and his great-uncle was a vice squad detective during Prohibition. He was popular among the rank and file who said his door was always open. He served as a police officer since 1983 and became chief in 2009.

Among the candidates contacted by The Item, only Vail consented to an interview. The 47-year-old captain has been a police officer for 23 years and is in charge of the department’s professional standards.

He listed a number of qualities the new chief must have to be a success.  

“A chief must possess leadership skills including patience, understanding and good judgment,” he said. “The chief needs to find out what the problems are and what’s important to Lynn residents by talking to them. The problems and concerns that are important to the community have to be the same problems and concerns that are important to the police department.”

Vail, who was selected by Coppinger, was set to leave for the FBI National Academy on Sunday.  The 10-week session is for law enforcement managers nominated by their agency heads because of demonstrated leadership qualities. The program, which provides courses in intelligence, terrorism, management, law, behavioral science, communication and forensic science, is intended to improve the administration of justice in police departments, according to the FBI.

Arlington Police Chief Frederick Ryan, who has served on Assessment Centers, said the panel will examine each candidate’s knowledge, skills, abilities and personal characteristics (KSAPs).

“High on the list of KSAPs is leadership, communication skills, problem solving and organizational sensitivity,” he said. “Assessment Centers create mock exercises that will elicit a response from each of the candidates to see if they have the KSAPs to do the job.”

It is far and away the most effective tool to select executive law enforcement leaders, he said.

“I’ve been through hundreds as a facilitator and it’s just amazing how the cream rises to the top,” Ryan said.

Thomas Grillo can be reached at [email protected]

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