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Harrington recommended as next St. Paul police chief
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Cmdr. John Harrington is the unanimous choice of a special committee to be the next chief of the St. Paul Police Department. Mayor Randy Kelly will take the recommendation into account when he takes his choice the city council for approval. (MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)
Cmdr. John Harrington, a 26-year veteran of the St. Paul Police Department, is the choice of a special committee to become the city's next police chief. Mayor Randy Kelly has the final say over the nomination to the City Council. Kelly spent Wednesday interviewing Harrington and other finalists. Harrington says he hopes he'll be the mayor's choice to replace William Finney, who's retiring this summer after 12 years as head of the department.

St. Paul, Minn. — The 16-member chief selection committee has been working on its police chief recommendation for the past couple of months. Co-chairman Todd Jones says all five of the finalists, four men and one woman, were strong candidates. They are all current members of the St. Paul Police Department.

Jones says John Harrington, the only African-American finalist, has experience that sets him apart from the others.

"Leadership within the department and leadership within the community was an important criteria that we used. The other was community engagement and community policing," Jones says. "We heard a lot of desire by the citizens of St. Paul to keep our police department -- which has done a fantastic job to date in the area of community policing -- engaged with the community, and someone who can take it to the next level with that respect."

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Image The finalists

The committee voted unanimously to recommend that St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly nominate Harrington to the city council for final approval.

Harrington, commander of the department's Western District, says his education background, along with his police and his grassroots work, make him the right person to head the department.

"My vision for the city of St. Paul is a place where literally -- at any time of the day or night -- any man, woman or child can walk out of their house, stand on their front yard and survey the scene, and know that they are safe," says Harrington.

Harrington met with Mayor Kelley Wednesday morning, promoting his belief that for police officers to be effective, they must work closely with the communities they serve.

"This can't be driven simply by the police. You really have to understand what the community wants, what their needs are," Harrington says. "And I think once you know that, you can work with them to solve the problems, and long-term problem-solving is really what they want."

The decision on who to nominate for chief ultimately lies with the mayor. The committee was charged only with making a recommendation. The city council then votes on the nominee.

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Image "A tough decision"

Kelly is interviewing all five finalists. He declined to comment on the committee's selection of Harrington. Harrington says although the mayor gave him no timeline, he's expecting Kelly will chose a police chief nominee soon.

"He's been real clear that he is going to make the decision," says Harrington. "He's going to use the council and the committee's decisions as part of that, but that will not be the only factor."

In stark contrast to Minneapolis, the leadership of the St. Paul Police Department has not be the subject of controversy and tension between community members, the mayor's office and the police union.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak nominated and won approval for William McManus to take over as chief in that city in early 2004. McManus had been chief in Dayton, Ohio, and won the job over two internal candidates.

Of the 11 candidates who met technical qualifications for the job of St. Paul chief, all but two worked for the department. The outsiders were the first to be eliminated.

Dave Titus, president of the St. Paul Police Federation and a member of the selection committee, says narrowing down the list of his colleagues vying for the department's top job was difficult. He says all nine are qualified to lead the St. Paul police.

"I would not want to be sitting in the mayor's shoes because ... there are many capable candidates," says Titus. "The mayor has to decide who's going to be the best leader, and that's going to be a tough decision."

Chief William Finney, St. Paul's first African-American police chief, is retiring in July.

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