NEW BEDFORD — On June 1, 1986, Joseph Cordeiro joined the New Bedford Police Department. This Friday, nearly 35 years later, he will retire after serving as chief. What exactly his future holds he cannot, or will not, yet say.
Cordeiro, who turns 57 this week, said he will spend a few months in Florida to sort out his thoughts for the future.
“I have some ideas of how I can serve the residents of New Bedford… my wife will tell you I’m juggling all kinds of stuff in my head so we’ll see,” he said. “I hope to be serving in a different capacity at some point.”
Prior to his five-year tenure as chief, Cordeiro served as division commander of the department’s downtown station and the commander of several units, including background investigations, juvenile, sexual assault, domestic violence, organized crime and narcotics, traffic and animal control.
There have been reports of public officials stepping down after this pandemic year with some citing “COVID burnout.”
For Cordeiro, the pandemic dealt challenges not just professionally, but personally: he lost his mother, Teresa Maria Raposo Cordeiro, to the virus last April.
Asked if the pandemic played any role in his decision to retire, he said it did not. Rather, he said it was a combination of his contract ending earlier this month, maxing out his pension, and completing all that he set out to do when he became chief five years ago.
Eric Cohen, executive director of the city’s retirement board, said Cordeiro’s pension allowance will be determined and calculated after his effective retirement date. Cohen said his office has yet to receive retirement filings from Cordeiro.
According to the city, Cordeiro has been eligible for retirement for a few years and Cordeiro said he contemplated staying another three years.
However, he decided he accomplished his primary goals of modernizing the department, enhancing community engagement and putting the department in a “much better place” from when he took it over.
“I was raised to finish what you started,” Cordeiro said. “I was committed to that contract and committed to the people of the city and the mayor… It’s time now to take all this energy and experience I have, and this skillset, and find how else I can serve.”
What’s next for him?
In addition to heading to Florida for a bit, the retiring chief, who emigrated from Portugal when he was two years old, said he’d like to make annual trips to the Azores and possibly do missionary work in other parts of the world. He also looks forward to spending time with his wife and two kids, ages 25 and 29.
“They were happy and they were sad,” Cordeiro said of his family’s feelings about his retirement. “They were happy for leaving all of the stresses and I think the personal attacks I endured.”
Cordeiro lives in Dartmouth and when asked if he’d be staying there, he said he does not mind moving to wherever and will go wherever his next professional chapter takes him.
He said he would continue to be involved in the New Bedford community, saying he loves the city and its people.
Asked if future police work was off the table, Cordeiro said a role in government or another job in law enforcement is “most definitely” a possibility.
“My best wheelhouse outside of loving my family is serving,” Cordeiro said. “I’m praying on it that God will take me where he wants me to be. I’m pretty sure it will be in service.”
What’s next for the department?
Cordeiro said the department must continue to evolve. For him, that means continuing to modernize, updating polices, procedures and training, requiring certain degrees to serve, and introducing body cameras.
“Legislators need to legislate body cameras to protect the good officers who are doing everything right and to ensure those rogue officers, very few, that they stay on task and ensure accountability,” he said.
He would like to see the city mandate minimum degree requirements for particular levels within the department: an associate’s degree at the entry level, a bachelor’s degree to be a sergeant, and a master’s degree for an administrative position, he gave as examples. Presently, the department only requires a GED certificate to serve.
To not preclude people who initially cannot afford to get an associate’s degree, he said it could be a requirement within five years of serving in the department.
Cordeiro said higher education broadens people’s thinking and perspectives, and encourages empathy that brings a “different level” of policing. He has both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice administration.
Asked what would need to happen to enforce such a policy, Cordeiro said the department is restricted by a collective bargaining agreement and the union would have to agree. The union did not respond to a request for comment.
Deputy Chief Paul Oliveira will step in as acting chief on April 24. Cordeiro said he would not play a role in selecting the new permanent chief unless asked, nor would he say whether it should be an internal or outside hire.
Cordeiro said the department is in good hands and that he has much confidence Mayor Jon Mitchell will appoint the right person.