PEABODY — Residents want a new police chief who’s approachable and stays in touch with their neighborhoods, according to Mayor Ted Bettencourt. He said those are important qualities to him, as well.
Bettencourt, who hosted a forum last week to seek public input on the search for a new chief, said those were two main themes he took away from the discussion. He felt those issues were raised more as areas for improvement, rather than criticism of retired Chief Robert Champagne.
Another issue raised by several residents at the forum was about gun permits. Champagne had traditionally required permit holders to retake a gun safety course every six years when they renewed their permits. That course, which must meet state standards, costs $100 to attend. Bettencourt said residents felt that was too onerous.
Champagne, along with Danvers police Chief Neil Ouellette, was also targeted by gun rights advocates in recent years for being too restrictive on gun licenses they approved for residents and letting applications amass into a large backlog.
Bettencourt said there was also discussion on further ways to keep an eye on traffic conditions — or scofflaws — around the city, such as installing cameras. Neighboring Salem has placed about 30 traffic cameras around the city and plans to install several more.
Bettencourt said the measure has merit and appears to be working in other communities, but he would defer to an opinion from the new police chief before taking any action.
Before final decisions are made on candidates for the job, Bettencourt said he will also meet with the police union to get officers’ input. This is the first time Peabody has selected a police chief outside the Civil Service process. The City Council and then state lawmakers last year agreed to remove both the police and fire chiefs’ jobs from Civil Service.