Detective Sgt. Robert Sinclair of the Michigan State Police and Sgt. Troy Stern of the Tecumseh Police Department, along with Port Huron Police Chief Donald Porrett, were interviewed Thursday in public sessions. Canton police Lt. Todd Mutchler and Carl Fuhs, West Bloomfield Township executive lieutenant, answered questions Wednesday from the six-member committee.
Porrett and Sinclair both noted they were near the end of their careers. Stern said he is a lifelong Tecumseh resident and a member of the police department for 16 years as of October with no intention of going anywhere else.
“I want this job,” Stern said. “I think I can be your police chief for many years.”
Porrett said the Tecumseh police chief’s position appealed to him as his 33-year career is winding down.
“I’ve come to the end of my career. Thirty-three years is a long time to spend at one police department,” Porrett said. “I love going to work every day, but I realized a long time ago that there would be a time when I decided to end my career, and frankly, I’ve come to the end so I started looking for jobs.”
He talked to a friend, a former Tecumseh police officer, who gave the city and the department a big recommendation. Porrett and his wife then drove to Tecumseh and visited on a Sunday and discovered a nice community.
“This looks like a great place and I want to be part of it,” he said. “I would love to move my family down here and become part of the community.”
Sinclair said that although he is eligible, he isn’t ready to retire. The assistant commander for the OMNI drug enforcement unit, Sinclair has been in law enforcement for almost 31 years.
“I’m very happy with the state police, but the job offer would give me a unique opportunity to come back home and finish up my law enforcement career here,” he said. “I felt the city has given me so much through the years that I’d like to give something back.”
Sinclair worked for the Deerfield Police Department in 1980 and then for the Tecumseh Police Department from 1981 to 1985 before joining the Michigan State Police. He worked his way through the ranks and is now a detective sergeant.
Porrett has spent his entire career with the Port Huron department.
“I was lucky enough to hire in as a police cadet 33 years ago and worked my way all the way to the top to become police chief, which has never happened in that department,” Porrett said. “I’ve worked almost every position in the agency and come to you with a wealth of experience.”
Stern, a 1989 Clinton High School graduate, worked at Tecumseh Products and Lenawee Stamping while studying law enforcement at Jackson Community College. He worked at the Somerset Township Police Department and the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Department before coming to Tecumseh.
Currently a shift commander on midnights, Stern said he knows the department and the city government intimately. Stern told the committee that during his original interview with then-Chief Larry Van Alstine, he had voiced the hope of one day becoming chief of the Tecumseh department. He said the department’s relationship with the community is vital.
“The public perception (of the department) needs some work,” Stern said. “Trust in the community needs to be rebuilt. The perception, I’ve found, is that some people don’t trust their police department.”
Sinclair and Porrett spoke of their experience in various positions and the duties they had to learn, including working with budgets and finding grants for equipment purchases and personnel.
Communication with city government, businesses and especially the public was cited by each as being important. Keeping department morale up is also key, they said.
Sinclair said keeping officers apprised on the budget situation is important, showing the officers that the department does not have the money it had in the past.
“Budget problems make it difficult to keep morale up,” said Sinclair. “You’ve got to keep them in the loop, let them know what’s going on.”
Porrett said keeping officers involved in the process helps them understand what money is or is not coming in.
“Not one of us in law enforcement is able to afford what we had before,” Porrett said. “The public wants us to come up with ideas to save money.”
Sinclair and Porrett said their first priorities would be to sit down with interim chief Scott Smith to discuss the department, and then meet with each officer. All three candidates said the chief needs to be out in the community, meeting people and letting them know what the department is doing.
“We have to have an open policy of communicating with the public,” Porrett said. “We have to be very open and honest with the public.”
A community police academy is an important tool for educating the public on the complexities of police work. It can also be used to strengthen the relationship the department has with the community, all three said. Strong relationships with other departments and with the prosecutor’s office are important.
“You have to be able to pick up the phone and call someone for assistance,” said Sinclair.
Stern called those relationships critical.
“These are people you have to work with every day,” he said. “If there is a strained relationship, you have to resolve it.”
Mayor Harvey Schmidt is a member of the search committee. He told the candidates to expect to be contacted sometime in the next two weeks.
Smith, fire chief Joe Tuckey, city manager Kevin Welch, Beth Kennedy from Evans Street Station and Adrian Police Chief Terry Collins also served on the committee. Welch told the Tecumseh City Council on Aug. 16 he hopes to have someone in place by October.
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