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Hartford Reviews Police Chief Applicants

Hartford — The town received fewer than 30 applications to fill the vacant police chief position, and the majority of the candidates are from outside New England.

Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg told the Selectboard this week that the town expected to field between 40 and 50 applications, but collected just 28 by Monday’s deadline to apply.

“It is a little bit less than what we are accustomed to,” Rieseberg said during the Selectboard meeting on Tuesday. “But 28 ... is a good number of applications to look at.”

The town solicited applications for several weeks to fill the newly re-established police chief position, for which the Selectboard restored funding following a short-lived experiment that had one person overseeing both the police and fire departments.

The board cast a split vote earlier this year to revert back to separate fire and police chiefs . The choice to merge the leadership posts had been motivated in part by cost-cutting.

The town’s description of the restored police chief’s position states the job would pay as much as $95,600, plus benefits. The police administration budget totals $2.4 million.

Fire Chief Steven Locke, who has acted as the public safety director for the past 18 months, will remain the town’s fire chief when a police chief is hired.

Selectman Dick Grassi, a 40-year law enforcement veteran, said he is discouraged by the number of applications the town received.

Though it is hard to pin-point why fewer people applied, Grassi said flip-flopping from a public safety director post to separate chiefs could have made the job less desirable.

“I think that does have a bearing on it,” said Grassi, who sits on the Vermont Parole Board and is retired from police and state liquor control positions. “Administrators in law enforcement like stability; they like to know what they are going into. They don’t want to get here and then have to leave.”

Grassi said competition from other police chief searches in the Twin States also could have contributed to the low turnout in Hartford.

Hanover and Windsor recently completed police chief searches — ultimately selecting candidates from outside New England.

Charlie Dennis, formerly the top cop in Reidsville, N.C., took over Hanover’s department last month, and William Sampson, of Lake Worth, Fla., will start in Windsor in August. (Sampson is a Massachusetts native).

Hanover and Windsor, however, both received far more applications than Hartford, with about 70 people applying for the Hanover position, which advertised a salary of $105,000, and about 50 people applying for Windsor’s job and its salary of $80,000.

About 20 people from New England applied for the Hanover and Windsor positions.

Out of Hartford’s pool, seven New England law enforcement officials applied for the chief position.

Hartford’s police force was buffeted by accusations of excessive force a few years ago.

In 2011, Hartford paid Monica Therrien $32,500 to settle her potential legal claims, which she was preparing to file in court, stemming from an investigation into allegations that a Hartford police officer assaulted her after she called 911 seeking help outside the Shady Lawn Motel in 2010.

Separately, the town and police department have been sued by Wayne Burwell, a former Wilder resident who in 2010 was pepper-sprayed and struck repeatedly with a baton inside his home by Hartford police responding to an erroneous report of a burglary.

Both Grassi and former Police Chief Glenn Cutting, who was named in the Burwell lawsuit, said such litigation wouldn’t directly affect the candidate pool.

“Unfortunately in police work, lawsuits come with the territory,” said Cutting, who retired as chief in 2012. “Police do a job that people don’t always like and (lawsuits are) their remedy for contesting police.”

Like Cutting, Grassi said: “(Lawsuits) are the nature of the beast. Every community in the state goes through them.”

Hartford officials hope to select a candidate who is “a career oriented, energetic, assertive and progressive ‘can do’ professional,” according to the ad posting for the position. The chief will oversee a staff of 25.

Hartford Deputy Police Chief Lenny Roberts said on Thursday that he applied for the position. Brad Vail, the town’s other deputy police chief, is also a candidate.

By the end of next week, the town hopes to have the list narrowed to 10 candidates, then move onto telephone interviews in the coming weeks. In late August, three to five candidates will participate in a two-day assessment center, an extended interview process that will evaluate “a candidates job related experience, skills and abilities as they interact with a panel of professionals from law enforcement and related industries,” Rieseberg said via email.

The town hopes to select a new chief in September.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.