Police Chief Search Continues In Westhampton Beach Village

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Four months after Westhampton Beach Village Police Chief Ray Dean’s sudden departure, the Village Board has yet to hire his replacement, and no timetable has been set for doing so.

Though it has not formally advertised the position, the village has received more than a dozen applications and conducted eight interviews thus far, Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore said this week. Board members say the process remains ongoing because they need to do their due diligence, but have offered few details about the specifics of the search and the criteria used.

“There are multiple issues we’re dealing with at the village right now—that’s one that we’re dealing with, and it’s a heavy one, but we don’t want to rush it,” Village Board member Patricia DiBenedetto said on Tuesday. “We’re not hiring a cashier here—we’re hiring a police chief.”

Ms. Moore said she’s spoken to current and former police chiefs in nearby communities, as well as the Suffolk County Department of Civil Services, to get their insight on best hiring practices, which she has shared with her four other board members.

The mayor declined to say whether or not the board has picked any finalists among the eight candidates interviewed.

“Our objective is to select a candidate who has the experience, temperament and ability to lead the department,” Ms. Moore wrote in a text message. “We hope to conclude the process soon.

“In the interim,” she continued, “Lt. [Trevor] Gonce has performed admirably in running the department, and has provided stability during this time for law enforcement in the village.”

Lieutenant Gonce has been designated “officer in charge” by the board and has been leading the day-to-day operations within the department since Chief Dean’s retirement at the end of June. He retired just days before Ms. Moore took office, ending his 15-year career with the village.

Lt. Gonce interviewed with the board in early September but said he has been given no updates since then. While there have been no issues in the department since the previous chief’s departure, and he understands why the board isn’t rushing into a decision, Lt. Gonce said he hopes one is handed down soon so the department can begin to move forward. Without knowing who the next chief will be, Lt. Gonce explained, he is hesitant to bring in new officers or purchase new vehicles.

“I understand the importance of the board taking their time and due diligence to find the best candidate,” he said. “However, there is an obligation and necessity to make a decision sooner rather than later for the integrity of the police department and the village residents.”

Because the village department has more than four full-time officers, albeit not many, it must have a police chief, according to Suffolk County Civil Service law. Westhampton Beach has 11 full-time and six part-time officers. However, there are no rules regarding how the village should go about the search or when it must bring in a replacement, according to Cynthia DiStefano, the director of classifications for the Suffolk County Civil Service.

Ms. DiStefano said her department works with municipalities to establish qualification requirements in these types of searches.

If the village promotes someone from within the police department, Ms. DiStefano said, that person must pass a promotional exam to ensure that he or she possesses the required qualifications. If the board opts to hire a current or former chief from another department, that person can be transferred to Westhampton Beach’s department.

But if the village hires someone from outside the department, or a person who has never served as a chief before, that individual must pass an open competitive exam. Going that route could be tricky for the village. If the village opts for the open competitive exam, any qualified officer interested in the position can take the same exam and the village would be forced to choose from the top three scorers—even if they did not interview the candidate before.

“We’ve never given an open competitive exam for a police chief, so we would have to work with the municipality to tailor it to their desired qualifications,” Ms. DiStefano said.

Westhampton Beach Village Board member Hank Tucker said while he wants to hire a chief as soon as possible, the current stability in the department has given the board the luxury of taking its time.

“We haven’t sat on it and put it on the back burner, or put it on a pile,” he said. “We are diligently working on finding a replacement. It’s just amazing how time does go by quick.”

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