BY ALAN BURKE
---- — PEABODY — Mayor Ted Bettencourt hasn’t gone far afield in naming an interim police chief, appointing former Salem Chief Robert St. Pierre to step in on Nov. 18 for the retiring Robert Champagne.
St. Pierre served for 25 years as top cop in nearby Salem, retiring in 2009. He not only worked alongside his friend Champagne in Peabody, the two attended college together after both completed military service in the 1970s.
Bettencourt wants St. Pierre to run the department and to help in selecting a long-term chief.
“We have a world-class police department in Peabody, made up of a great number of outstanding law enforcement professionals,” Bettencourt said in a press release. “I believe Chief St. Pierre’s background, specifically his experience with professional evaluation and the assessment center process, will prove beneficial as we transition to a permanent police chief.”
The assessment center process, designed for choosing new leaders, is something St. Pierre has participated in multiple times in communities, including Springfield, Weymouth, North Reading and Malden.
“I’m familiar with the process,” he told the News in an interview.
Asked how long he might be willing to stay on, St. Pierre did not give a time limit. “The mayor talked about having me work into next year,” he said.
St. Pierre explained that he didn’t know Bettencourt prior to being offered the job. “I just received a call, and we talked.”
A grandfather who recently did a stint as the interim chief at Salem State University, he asked for a little time to think about the offer, then decided that, at age 65, it was appropriate “to come out of hibernation. ... It’s an opportunity to work with a bunch of really professional officers.”
He praised the Peabody department as a “very well-run, a very progressive department.” He added that Peabody residents “have come to expect a high level of police services. I’m going to work to maintain that high level.”
Salem and Peabody have some differences, he noted, which he’s prepared for, having watched Peabody over the years.
“Peabody is a little bigger sizewise ... more spread out,” he said.
In dealing with the public, St. Pierre stressed the need for transparency and openness.
A Marine Corps veteran, St. Pierre has a bachelor’s degree in social services from Salem State and a master’s in criminal justice from American International College in Springfield. He also led a sensitive internal investigation of the Salisbury Police Department, ending in January 2011. He started his career in Salem as a patrol officer in 1974, climbing the ranks until he was made chief in 1984.
For his part, Bettencourt highlighted the need to get just the right person to lead the police department. “
The chief plays a role in every facet of the community, and I want to make sure we have the best person in place going forward,” he said.
In a press release issued by the mayor, Champagne praised St. Pierre as “a fine professional police officer.”
Champagne has held the chief’s job in Peabody for more than 25 years and was due to retire last June 1. The mayor’s interest in moving the chief’s position out of Civil Service, thereby giving more flexibility in hiring and firing, meant a delay in finding a replacement. Champagne agreed to stay on until now.
St. Pierre said Champagne has offered whatever help he can give during the transition.
“I just got off the phone with Chief Champagne,” he said, “and he said he’d make himself available whenever I needed him.”
Alan Burke can be reached at email@example.com.