October 23, 2021

Police chief finalists share views

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

A man walks by the Cortland Police Department in this December 2020 Cortland Standard file photo.

Two finalists for Cortland’s police chief opening told interviewers last week in videoconference meetings available to the public that the department needs to be more open and engaging with the community

The two were interviewed for about an hour each virtually Friday by Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin and Regina Grantham, an associate professor in SUNY Cortland’s communication disorders and sciences department, and a panel of residents to provide transparency into the hiring process, Tobin said in an email.

The candidates look to succeed Chief F. Michael Catalano, who retires on March 19 after almost 40 years with the department and 12 as chief.

About the candidates

  • Lt. David Guerrera started as a patrol officer in 1993 and became one of the department’s first certified bike patrol officers, according to his biography on the department’s website. In 1999, he was promoted to sergeant, where he oversaw patrol operations, until his assignment to the department’s Youth Division in 2008. In 2009, Guerrera was promoted to oversee the operations of the Detective Bureau and became the new public information officer for the department. In 2010, he was promoted to lieutenant, where he oversees the patrol division. His interview: youtu.be/s2IXCSSAeLk.
  • Deputy Chief Paul Sandy joined the department in 1985 and helped create the bike patrol unit, according to his biography. He was promoted to sergeant in 1993 and then reassigned to the detective bureau in 1995, as a member of the Cortland County Drug Task Force. He was promoted to detective lieutenant in 2003, where he became the agency’s public information officer and field information officer within Counter Terrorism Zone 6. In 2009, he was promoted to deputy chief. His interview: youtu.be/conFIqcYjSY

Both Guerrera and Sandy have been with the Cortland Police Department more than 20 years.

One question asked how the new chief would engage more with the community.

Guerrera said he would be open to going to places such as Loaves and Fishes and could do virtual engagements with people or be more active on social media.

Sandy said he would be open for attending high school or college events or other gatherings.

“I’m a public person,” Sandy said. “I would be out there.”

He also was open to creating sessions to speak one-on-one with the public for any concerns they may have.

Another question regarded the candidates’ thoughts on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 203, which requires police to review their policies potentially for reform or lose state funding, and what the candidates thought about the city’s responses to it.

Guerrera said he understood the order’s intent to make agencies more open, fair and to update policies. He said the department already has good policies, but through the order will update some.

“I think it’s important that people see and understand what our policies are,” he said.

Sandy made reference to a citywide survey sent out as part of the executive order to get residents’ views on their interactions with police. He noted between a quarter and half of responses were neutral since “people didn’t know us.”

“And that’s concerning to me: a lack of engagement,” he said, adding the chief needs to get across the department’s message clearly so people know the department better.

Both were asked how they might reach out to marginalized minority populations.

Guerrera said he was open to meeting with groups such as SUNY Cortland’s Black Students Union to engage more in conversations.

Sandy said he would be open to similar discussions involving the college or through community interactions like free dinners or food giveaways.

Tobin said Monday he will make a recommendation on one of the two candidates for the Cortland Common Council to vote on for the next chief.

He hopes to choose a candidate for the council’s March 16 meeting.

“We have two exceptionally qualified candidates,” he said. “Both showed a strong knowledge of not just the needs of the community but also of the department and its future.”