NEW BEDFORD — The New Bedford Police Union voted no confidence in Police Chief Paul Oliveira. According to the union, 121 of the 135 members who voted do not support Oliveira as the department’s leader.
“The results, however stark, unfortunately represent the feelings of a clear majority of our membership and are indicative of serious problems with the appointed leader of the New Bedford Police Department,” said the union in a statement posted to Facebook after Friday’s vote. “This vote is an expression of the immense stress, frustration, and dissatisfaction that the officers of the NBPD have with Chief Oliveira’s leadership.”
The vote follows months of public criticism from the union about officers working under decreased staffing and leaving New Bedford for other police departments.
Police Union President Lt. Evan Bielski told The Light on Monday that morale is very low, and the internal culture “so bad” that some officers don’t have trust in conditions getting better under current leadership.
“This wasn’t done as some stunt,” Bielski said. “There’s a lot of good police officers that work for New Bedford … a lot of people that are kind of fed up and just want some things to change and some things to get better.”
For instance, Bielski said, because of the staffing shortage and turnover, officers who work overnight shifts haven’t been able to use some vacation days because there aren’t other officers available.
Bielski would not say who made the motion to have a no confidence vote. The union has around 200 members, meaning dozens abstained from the vote, which was conducted as a secret ballot.
In response to a request for an interview with Oliveira, department spokesperson Lt. Scott Carola said by email that the police chief is “first going to meet with the union leadership and have a discussion about how things can improve going forward.”
Bielski said he’s heard from the chief, and that the two plan to meet this week to discuss concerns.
Oliveira became police chief in June 2021, after a stint as acting chief; he has served in the department since the 1990s. In March of this year, Oliveira applied to the open chief position at the Falmouth Police Department, per records obtained by The Light. He was not selected, and he did not respond to a request for comment about his application.
The union’s action is not unprecedented. In 2019, under different leadership, the union asked Mayor Jon Mitchell to remove Oliveira’s predecessor, former Chief Joseph Cordeiro (the mayor didn’t). In 2004, the union voted no confidence in then-Chief Carl Moniz.
The union’s statement on the vote, posted Monday, seemed to ask for some response by city officials: “We hope the city leaders and stakeholders take this information to heart.”
The mayor says Oliveira has his support.
“It’s the same ol’, same ol’ from the union leadership,” said Mitchell in an emailed statement. “They orchestrate a no confidence vote — this time on the heels of a significant pay raise — and they will no doubt accuse anyone who questions their motives as being ‘anti-police.’
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“It’s a worn-out tactic to gain advantage at the bargaining table — which ultimately does not advance the union membership’s interests. Chief Oliveira has been highly effective in leading the department, and has my full support.”
In response to the mayor’s statement, Bielski said the union is not currently bargaining, and is under an active contract that expires in June 2024; he said they will likely not start bargaining until after the new year.
In July, the city and union reached a new collective bargaining agreement. It reduced the residency requirement from 10 years to four for new hires, and allows for a residency waiver if required to address retention issues. The new contract also included a pay increase, and opened the door for the adoption of body cameras by the department.
In an effort to boost hiring and address “acute” staffing shortages, Oliveira and Mitchell in March announced sign-on bonuses for new hires. At that time, the department was staffed with around 215 officers, and budgeted for 259.
The union vote also follows a study released this summer that identified strengths and “issues of concern” with NBPD.
“Many police officers feel city administration does not respect the police, which officers perceive is demonstrated by actions the city has taken to close one of the police stations, not recognizing good policing by officers, and the failure to provide good police facilities for officers to work,” read the Jensen Hughes report on NBPD.
City Councilor Brian Gomes, who chairs the council’s Committee on Public Safety and Neighborhoods, said he believes the vote of no confidence was the result of several factors, including forced overtime, officers leaving to go work for other police departments, and a “wave of shootings and crime.”
He filed a motion for the upcoming City Council meeting on Nov. 9, calling for a discussion with police union leadership at a subsequent public safety committee meeting.
“We will hear a synopsis of what their concerns are and see what we can do to help the department,” Gomes said, “and let them know their concerns are not falling on deaf ears.”
Email Anastasia E. Lennon at email@example.com.