West Allis police chief candidate turns down top job

Published on: 2/19/2013

West Allis - The city may not have a new police chief after all.

Opting for a familiar local face in a West Allis native, the Police and Fire Commission last week named retired West Allis Deputy Police Chief Patrick 'Rick' Balistrieri as the new chief of police. But on Tuesday night, at least two city officials confirmed that Balistrieri had turned down the job, though the reasons for his decision had not been confirmed prior to press deadline.

Balistrieri, 54, would have succeeded Michael Jungbluth, who retired at the end of 2012.

'He felt that because the vote was not unanimous that he didn't have the full support of the commission, which isn't the case,' Joseph Kempen, Police and Fire Commission president, explained late Tuesday, just before press deadline.

Earlier, Kempen had lauded the candidates for the job, including Balistrieri.

'The field of candidates was outstanding,' Kempen said in a press release announcing the commission's decision last week.

Balistrieri retired from the department more than a year ago. He was to begin his duties as soon as he passed physical, psychological and other exams.

Razor's edge difference

In Jungbluth's absence, Charles Padgett, who had been deputy chief in charge of operations, has been serving as interim police chief. Padgett and Balistrieri were the top two candidates for the chief's job. Now, the commission will have to meet to decide what step to take next - whether that means offering the job to Padgett or including other candidates as finalists.

There was only a razor's edge of difference between Padgett and Balistrieri, Kempen said last week.

What seemed to turn the tide toward Balistrieri was that the commission was looking for a chief who would be visible in the community - and Balistrieri is not only a West Allis native but has a track record over a lifetime of being extremely active in the community, Kempen said.

'We wanted someone who would be the face of the department in the community,' Kempen said. 'That's how you build rapport and partnerships.'

From Balistrieri's standpoint, at least prior to his decision to turn it down, the job seemed a good fit for his West Allis connections.

'This is a community I absolutely love and I care about,' he said following his appointment.

Retirement questioned

What role his earlier retirement as deputy chief played in any perceived resistance from some commission members remained unclear.

Balistrieri knew the issue of his previous retirement in 2011 from the West Allis force would come up in the evaluation process. Balistrieri explained that, at the time, there was no indication that the chief would retire soon

So Balistrieri said he made the decision to retire, but not to leave law enforcement.

He was a finalist for Greendale police chief, a post which was eventually filled internally.

In July 2011, he had a chance to work up to 15 hours a week with the West Allis police, going into neighborhoods with crime issues to focus on causes and try to deliver relevant city services.

He also teaches at the Suburban Law Enforcement Academy and was recruited by the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill., to work with chiefs and other command staff on leadership, integrity, ethics and mentoring. As an instructor at DuPage, he teaches fellow officers from Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

He is also manager of the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Accreditation Board's program that evaluates police departments to see if they use the best practices so that they can win accreditation from the board.

Pension and salary

Due to his unusual circumstance, Balistrieri would still have received his pension while getting paid as chief.

That was a topic that the Police and Fire Commission discussed at length, Kempen said, but those discussions always ended at the same place.

'Our task was to pick the best person for the job,' he said.

And Balistrieri said that because police officers and command staff retire so young, almost everyone goes into some gainful employment.

'I did not retire with the intent of coming back to West Allis,' he said.

He just missed police work.

'I missed being part of the solution,' he said.

Balistrieri will still receive his West Allis pension. Had he accepted the position, taxpayers would have actually saved money - the city wouldn't have had to pay into the state retirement system for him because he's already retired, he said. That would have saved the city $20,000 to $22,000 a year, he estimated.