No longer ‘acting,’ Perez looks ahead
BRIDGEPORT — Police Chief Armando Perez had just settled down for a Tuesday afternoon interview with a reporter when he was distracted by the commotion on the scanner that monitors his cops’ radios.
Seated on the couch in his office, Perez listened for a few moments, then stood up and walked closer to his desk to hear better.
Three cruisers were after a stolen car and traveling around 40 to 45 miles per hour.
“It’s a perp pursuit,” Perez said. He cursed, listened for the location of the chase, and pointed at the clock on his wall.
“My concern is school time,” Perez said, and whether the pursuit was in a neighborhood where students would be walking home.
He almost ordered his officers to back off, but decided to trust their judgment and continue monitoring the situation. His faith was rewarded.
“Be advised school is getting out now,” said a voice over the scanner, and the cruisers slowed down and disengaged.
“See?” Perez said.
Those cops will have five years to continue to make their boss proud. A few hours later, at a packed ceremony across the street in City Hall, Perez, 62, was formally sworn in as Bridgeport’s permanent top cop.
Mayor Joe Ganim, following a months-long national search, promoted his close friend last week from acting to permanent chief with a five-year contract.
And the mayor during Wednesday’s ceremony addressed ongoing speculation that his long and close friendship with Perez had made that promotion a sure thing. Ganim appointed Perez acting chief in March 2016.
“This individual, this man as a police officer, came through a very difficult gauntlet to be selected,” Ganim told the crowd. “I may have wanted you to be chief, but I couldn’t get you there. You had to step up.”
During that afternoon’s interview with Hearst Connecticut Media, the chief admitted that he, among three finalists for the job, had actually been ranked second by a panel of law enforcement and human resources experts. He and Ganim have said repeatedly that a “strategic five-year plan” for the department Perez offered the mayor at their final interview helped to seal the deal.
The broad strokes of Perez’s plan include hiring more officers and reducing officer turnover; further diversifying the department, particularly at the top; increasing foot and bike patrols; continuing to upgrade equipment and technology, and emphasizing transparency and ethics.
The chief said he will turn to his newer recruits for ideas and assistance: “You’ve got some dynamic kids here, men and women. ..That’s what you’ve got to tap into.”
Ganim also during Wednesday’s ceremony said the chief had grown and proven his leadership over the past nearly three years.
“I know him and love him. He’s my brother,” Perez told Hearst of Ganim. “One thing about him, he can separate” the personal from the professional.
Perez said his closeness with Ganim and his friendship with Sgt. Chuck Paris, head of the police union, does not mean he can’t stand up to them if necessary.
He said those relationships benefit the department and the city.
“It took Chapman almost two years to get to know who the players were,” Perez said, referring to one of his predecessors, Wilbur Chapman, who was hired from out-of-town.
Ganim was hardly the only community leader who wanted to see Perez become top cop. But there are also plenty of critics who believe Perez is an unqualified manager with too many local political ties.
“You gotta give me a chance. Let me prove myself to you. And my doors are always open,” Perez said. “I’m human and I make mistakes like everybody else.”
Like last year in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Jayson Negron by a rookie officer. Perez met privately with the family and, based on initial information he was given, told them Negron was shot in the head. The Medical Examiner later reported the shot was to the torso. That mix-up still weighs on Perez, who brought it up during Wednesday’s interview.
“They (Negron’s family) thought I was lying to them. ... My heart bled for that family,” the chief said. “I have a son, too.”
Though proud to finally be permanent chief, Perez said he is fully aware that the next five years will likely bring to a close a law enforcement career that began in 1983.
“I want to do five years. That’s my target. There’s life after police work,” Perez said. “A very good friend of mine, he stayed (on the job) too long. ... Not even a year after he retired they found he had stomach cancer. (He) lasted eight months.”