MARBLEHEAD — Selectmen voted to slash police Chief Robert Picariello's salary last night in the wake of a damning report of the Police Department.
The board voted unanimously to cut Picariello's salary by nearly $8,000, dropping it from from $103,020 to $95,274, effective July 1 when his contract is set to run out.
The action came just before Picariello presented an eight-page plan to selectmen addressing 24 of the department's most critical issues and establishing a timeline to resolve them.
The chief's pledge to do better came more than a month after a fiery meeting where residents blasted the police for misbehavior and a lack of transparency. Picariello himself was several times labeled a liar that night.
Last night, Picariello's list of ideas included establishing a school resource officer, holding community forums, developing a review board to handle complaints against the police and setting up walking patrols.
"I think this is a good plan going forward," he told the board.
Selectmen, too, had ideas.
They ordered that the department's seven cruisers be stripped of their tinted windows, which had become a metaphor for the lack of transparency of the beleaguered force.
"I don't know if you really have any idea how many people have approached us — it was the single most important thing," Selectman Judy Jacobi said. " ... The majority of people who spoke to me said they wanted a connection with our police, and when we see them, that makes us feel they're not connected to us."
But Picariello sharply disagreed, arguing the tinted windows offered anonymity for both witnesses and suspects, protected heavily clad officers from hot temperatures, and kept secret the number of officers in a cruiser.
"I believe there is a value to tinted windows," said Picariello, who offered instead to reduce the level of tint.
One unmarked cruiser will remain tinted.
Selectman William Woodfin took the cruiser issue a step further by proposing the town change the all-black color of its cruisers.
"I don't want to see a car that looks like a Secret Service car being driven around Marblehead," Woodfin said.
Others, however, felt selectmen involvement in crafting a cruiser color scheme amounted to micromanagement.
"I do not intend to sit here and look at a catalog," Selectman Jackie Belf-Becker said. Woodfin's proposal was defeated, 4-1.
Selectmen also directed the chief to create a greater police presence in the schools, even suggesting an officer eat lunch with students.
"Our children need to look up to their leaders," Chairman James Nye said.
Nye told the chief that when he asked his daughter what she thought of the police, she had a telling response: "They never smile."
"I know it's a little thing," Nye said. "But this is a small community, and we should be honored to be working for the town of Marblehead. There's nothing wrong with saying hello to people and smiling. ... Be gracious and courteous and happy to have the job."
During the often-emotional meeting last month, the parents of Allie Castner, a 15-year-old Marblehead High School student who was struck and killed by a car in August 2009, criticized officers' handling of the investigation.
Castner's death prompted selectmen to hire a consultant last year to investigate the department's practices.
The report, released in November, claimed a clear tension exists between police and the public. Consultants believed officers had created a sense among residents "of a police agency without focus at best, and a police organization out of control at its worst."
Likewise, many officers believe the community doesn't support the police, the report concluded.
Selectmen hoped last night's meeting would mark a turning point in relations between the police and the public, and present an opportunity to move forward — something Castner's father told selectmen last night he could not do.
"My feet are stuck in the mud looking back," Chris Castner said, noting that Allie would have turned 17 this Saturday. " ... Allie did not get justice that night. ... We can't lose sight of the fact that they haven't been held accountable for that night."
Woodfin cryptically suggested more action against police would be coming in the wake of Castner's death, but would not elaborate.
"I was told it's not for public consumption," Woodfin said during the meeting, "but there are issues afoot where this may come up again."
Staff writer Chris Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter@ChrisCassidy_SN.