Long Beach officials allowed the public to interview the two finalists for police commissioner, a move the city council president said was done to boost transparency.
The city took the unprecedented step of putting Acting Long Beach Police Commissioner Phil Ragona and Nassau County Chief of Support Ronald Walsh front and center at a moderated forum to take questions from the community and a public search firm.
The Long Beach City Council will review public input and make a recommendation to City Manager Donna Gayden. The city does not have a timeline to make a selection.
"The police department is one of the most public-facing departments in the city and who leads the department going forward will directly impact how the LBPD provides service to the residents," City Council President John Bendo said. "This is why it was decided to include the public in the interview process from the beginning. Now as the process nears its conclusion, the city council believed it was good to give residents a preview of the finalists for police commissioner that they helped select."
The city is seeking to replace Police Commissioner Michael Tangney, who retired in May after 42 years on the police force.
Ragona, 58, was appointed as acting commissioner in June following the retirement of Acting Commissioner Ed Ryan. He had served with the Long Beach police department for 27 years, before retiring and returning for the past seven years as director of the Ocean Beach Park and boardwalk.
Walsh, 55, started as a Long Beach volunteer and summer special officer before he was hired as a federal special agent in Manhattan. He joined the NYPD, working in Far Rockaway for three years. He has spent the past 28 years with Nassau County police, where he has served as chief of support for the past two years.
City officials narrowed down the finalists from a list of eight or nine candidates, who interviewed with 12 panelists. The city council interviewed four finalists before Ragona and Walsh were selected for the public forum. The Oct. 27 forum, which took questions from the public submitted online, was moderated by Gary Peterson, president of the California-based Public Sector Search & Consulting firm.
Ragona and Walsh answered questions about community policing, police reforms and how to manage protests and curb inherent racism and bias.
Ragona said he has met with Long Beach civic groups, including West End Neighbors, to address concerns of noisy bars and restaurants, and the North Park Community, which includes more diverse and marginalized residents, he said.
"There is a basic distrust between the police and the community, as voiced by the civics," Ragona said. "I’m bridging that gap. We’re meeting to address the issues and our police officers are out in the community, meeting and talking to the community. ... Community policing is about working together and forming a partnership."
Walsh said he has ties to the community, but he’s working to build local trust by meeting with civic groups and wants to meet with each member of the force to improve policing. He said the city needs to make police reforms, including bias training and publishing race, age, gender and location of ticketing and use-of-force reports.
"It’s so important we establish those relationships, because those are the reasons this police department doesn’t have close relationships in North Park, and some reasons why some of the systemic issues haven’t been solved long term," Walsh said.
Long Beach police commissioner finalists
- Acting Police Commissioner Phil Ragona served 27 years with Long Beach police before retiring. He has been a beach park director for the past seven years.
- Nassau County Chief of Support Ronald Walsh has been with Nassau for 28 years. He previously worked for the U.S. Department of Justice and the NYPD.
View the public forum at youtube.com/cityoflongbeachNYOFFICIAL.