, Salem, MA

November 13, 2013

Our view: A choice for change in Beverly

The Salem News

---- — It got lost a bit in the tumult over last week’s election, but the city of Beverly was introduced to a police chief candidate who, if approved by the City Council, has the opportunity to help move the police department into a new era of accountability, openness and trust.

Outgoing Mayor Bill Scanlon last week named John LeLacheur, a recently retired New Hampshire State Police captain, to replace the retiring Mark Ray, who had led the department since 2007.

LeLacheur, 51, is a Manchester, N.H., resident who grew up in Lowell. Over the course of nearly three decades with the New Hampshire State Police, LeLacheur has been a member and commander of the state police honor guard and developed a special events response team. He has been a drill instructor at the New Hampshire Police Academy and has taught leadership and media relations at the New England State Police Administrative Conference.

In 1999, he was awarded his organization’s Medal of Valor for pulling a fellow officer to safety after his cruiser had been hit by rifle fire.

“This man has very valid experience,” Scanlon told reporter Paul Leighton last week. “He’s got energy. He’s been part of an organization (that) has done good work.”

It is significant that Scanlon went outside the city in seeking a replacement for Ray, who retired in September. If confirmed by the City Council, LeLacheur, who was chosen from a field of more than two dozen applicants, would be the first police chief from outside the department in recent memory, perhaps ever.

Scanlon said Christopher Negrotti, who served as interim chief and eventually decided not to pursue the permanent job, told him an outside view was needed.

“After a time, (Negrotti) came to me and said, ‘There are just too many problems here. We’ve got to get an outside influence.’ And, frankly, I was pretty much of that viewpoint myself,” Scanlon told reporter Paul Leighton last week.

The Beverly Police Department has had several high-profile problems over the past several years, including a murder-suicide involving a police officer’s son, and a police cruiser crash that killed a woman.

In another incident in September, officer Kevin Coletti was disciplined after crashing his police cruiser at more than twice the legal speed in a 30 mph zone and leaving the scene before a supervising officer arrived.

At first, Coletti told police that he swerved to avoid a dog that ran out in front his cruiser. A state police examination of the vehicle’s black box recorder, however, showed the cruiser was traveling 64 mph five seconds before it crashed into the utility pole and traveled nearly two blocks — more than the length of a football field — before coming to a stop. Coletti was not given a Breathalyzer test at the time, because, officials said, it’s not department policy, and there’s still no explanation as to why he was traveling so fast if he wasn’t trying to stop another car.

Police say Coletti has been disciplined but refuse to say what the disciplinary action was, calling it a personnel matter. Citizens deserve better accountability and more transparency than the four-sentence statement officials released on the incident.

“Sometimes, you really need to start with a fresh slate, and I think there are some factions within the department,” Scanlon said. “I think we need a strong, experienced person in charge.”

LeLacheur has an opportunity to be that person.

“Coming in from the outside and not having a bias can be a benefit,” he said. “The No. 1 thing I’m going to impress on them is integrity. That’s the backbone of law enforcement. I expect them to do the job, be honest about what you’re doing and be professional.”

That sounds like a good start.