Assistant Chief Christopher Cole has been named the city’s new police chief, but officials are not sure whether the appointment will allow them to save the jobs of any patrol officers slated to be cut in the new year.
Cole, who has been with the department since 1990, was chosen as chief from three candidates because of his “intelligence, his hardworking ethics and most of all, his integrity,” Commissioner of Public Safety Ron Kim said in announcing the appointment Friday afternoon.
Cole, 44, a city native whose father reached assistant chief in the department, has two daughters; they attended Friday’s news conference along with his parents and sister. A swearing-in ceremony will take place by Dec. 13, when Cole will start as chief, Kim said.
Cole will be paid at least $89,357, the starting salary for chief. He may make more than that because of “steps” he has accrued, but that figure was not available Friday, said Eileen Finneran, deputy public safety commissioner.
Cole said he looks forward to working with Rick Wirth, who was elected the new public safety commissioner and will start in January.
“It is with bittersweet emotions that I take on this new challenge, and I know that expectations will be high,” Cole said.
He called budgeted staffing levels “unacceptable” and said layoffs must not happen again.
Even though the chief appointment has been made, the budget still calls for seven officers — about 10 percent of the department — to be laid off Jan. 1. Because the current chief is retiring, the department will actually be down eight people. The City Council would have to amend the budget to allow one officer to retain his or her job, Cole said, and only reduce the payroll by seven. He said he has thought about how to restructure the department with fewer officers, but isn’t prepared to talk about it. “We’re still going to answer calls,” he said.
The current chief, Edward Moore, will retire Dec. 12 after 34 years with the department. He praised Cole. “He’s been my right hand man over the last several years,” Moore said.
Moore also joked about the significant height difference between himself and the tall Cole: “There is a budget crisis, so I thought it only appropriate to offer Chris all of my uniforms.”
Cole was emotional in his acceptance speech, citing his father’s service to the Police Department as an inspiration.
“It was because of his support that I chose this career path,” he said, choking up as he looked at his father.
Gene Cole, who retired in 1994 after 30 years with the department, said he is proud of his son but knows he faces a tough job.
“I know what losing seven people means. Somebody has to answer those calls.”
Kim said he plans to interview other officers to move up the ladder to be assistant chief in the four weeks before he leaves office.
Cole, a graduate of SUNY-Plattsburgh, was one of three candidates in the police department eligible for the job, along with Capt. Michael Biss and Lt. Michael Chowske.
“No matter who I choose, it’s always a very difficult choice,” Kim said in his announcement.
He praised both Biss, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and Chowske, who leads the evening shift and started the two-horse policing program. That is slated to be cut next year, something that neither Cole nor Chowske want. The animals’ housing is donated, so the city pays only $4,000 a year to feed them and get them veterinary care.
That makes Jupiter and King Tut the lowest-paid members of the force by far.
“The equines, as far as I’m concerned, are absolutely successful,” Cole said in an interview after the appointment was announced. The horses are used to break up crowds, keep nighttime fight situations from getting violent and to get police officers to areas on the street quickly.
“People listen to horses. They don’t listen to cops,” Cole said.