, Salem, MA

April 26, 2014

Letter: On Salem, civil service and police chiefs

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

I am the longest-serving non-chief member of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. I read about Mayor Kimberly Driscoll’s desire to be able to hire a non-civil service chief instead of promoting from within. I have listened to the police chiefs from different towns who relate horror stories when it comes to this particular subject. A few observations from over my nearly 40 years of membership:

Morale drops on many occasions as the new chief is viewed as an outsider by the force that has worked together as a team in that city or town.

A strong message is sent that if you are a new hire, forget about the opportunity of becoming chief. Even though these young officers have a chance to become chief, the message is we need a really intelligent “professional” who can run the department correctly, again, affecting morale amongst the troops. In some cases, but not all, the officers who have been on the force view the new chief as an outsider and will do little things to make his or her life a little “trying” (miserable).

In some cases, the new chief has become unhappy and leaves the job and it is not unheard of that the, say, three-year contract still has to be honored while a search for a new chief is under way. I have seen the outsider get full pay until the remainder of his contract runs out while the city is on the hook for that expense and the additional salary of the new chief, usually hired from within, and also having to be paid.

While I understand the mayor’s reasoning, I find it difficult to understand the need for this kind of action as the Salem Police Department has one of the most respected reputations for “crimes solved to crimes committed” percentages in the state.

We have had outstanding leadership for the better part of a century and are blessed with a department of talented individuals that, given the opportunity, will carry on the traditions set forth by a number of great chiefs that we have enjoyed for decades.

It is my experience that when you give an individual a new position of responsibility, in this case chief, you must also give him or her the authority to exercise that authority and responsibility without them feeling that “If I don’t do what the mayor or town administrator wants, I could lose my job.” Thus, for the very reason that you want to look outside of the department, the responsibility and authority does not rest with the chief.

I am uniquely qualified to speak on this issue as it has come up very often at the monthly meetings over the years of my membership. The comments most often end in laughter as the outcomes are often the same. Police and the chiefs in particular are a different breed. They are brothers who are committed to law enforcement and have a single focus — upholding the law. To disrupt this closeness, and one only has to watch the “Brotherhood” on TV when one of their own is killed in action, to fully know what I mean.

It is my strong advice in a subject that I am, again, uniquely qualified to speak on, that the mayor rethink this approach as far as the police or fire departments are concerned. I think that it would do more harm than good and disrupt two really great city departments that have rightly earned their reputation and respect from, not only our citizens, but of all state law enforcement officials. To lead a force like the police, you must have walked in their shoes and understand the dynamics of the daily work of the department. It is far different than hiring a DPW director.

B.P. Biff Michaud


The Salem Witch Museum