Hartford Hires a Police Chief

Thursday, February 19, 2015
Hartford — The long, challenging search for a police chief is over.

On March 1, Phillip Kasten, a deputy chief from the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department in Maryland, is scheduled to take the reins of the Hartford Police Department, according to Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg .

In Carroll County, which is northwest of Baltimore and has a population of 168,000, Kasten most recently oversaw a budget of $16 million and a staff of 250; Hartford just added a new detective position that brings the total police force to 25, but Kasten said he sees more similarities than differences.

“I think Hartford is no different than the community I’m coming from now,” he said. “For the most part, in Hartford as in most communities, substance abuse is at the root of a lot of our crimes. For Hartford, that looks to be mostly property crimes, but also assault and domestic crimes go with that.”

He said that he would lead the department to combat crime by addressing substance abuse with a collaborative community approach.

Kasten plans to move to Hartford within the next two weeks; his wife and four children will follow at the end of the school year.

Over the course of his career, Kasten has been a U.S. Marine, hosted a television program called Carroll’s Most Wanted, and provided security at the stadium where the Baltimore Orioles play.

Rieseberg said Kasten’s experience will serve Hartford well.

“He’s forward-thinking in the sense that he has experience using technology and applying the latest standards of law enforcement,” Rieseberg said. “It’s evidenced by his familiarity and experience with community policing and problem-oriented policing.”

Selectman Simon Dennis said he was impressed with Kasten during his 90-minute interview with the Selectboard.

“He hit the interview out of the park,” Dennis said. “He was hitting a lot of the key issues with community involvement.”

Kasten, who was recommended by a seven-member panel from an initial pool of about 30 candidates, will earn about $94,000 a year, Rieseberg said.

The Hartford panel identified two finalists who qualified for offers, but Rieseberg, who as town manager holds the final hiring authority, said Kasten was the top choice.

“He’s just so very well-qualified in so many areas that everyone who met him came away impressed with his credentials,” Rieseberg said.

Carroll County Sheriff’s Department Cpl. Jon Light, who served with Kasten for more than 10 years, described Kasten as “focused,” and said his leadership style has helped him to achieve great things.

“He looks to surround himself with strong people who can handle the tasks that he gives them,” he said. “He tries to give you the resources you need, but I wouldn’t say he’s a micromanager or anything. He’s been great to work for.”

In early 2014, Kasten appeared in national news stories about his department’s investigation into the apparent suicide of Ryan Loskarn, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander who was awaiting trial on child pornography charges at the time of his death.

Kasten, who is in his early 40s, said he chose Hartford because he felt it would be a good place to raise his children, who range in age from 9 to 16.

“For my wife and I, raising our children is paramount,” he said. “Seeing they’re in a community like Hartford is important to us. Hartford has a lot to offer.”

A Rise Through the Ranks

Kasten’s career has been marked by a quick rise through the ranks.

After a year of providing security at Oriole Park, he entered the Hampstead Police Department in Maryland in 1996. After four years there, he moved on to become a deputy at the sheriff’s department, where he received several promotions.

Light said Kasten worked for years to get the department accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, a benchmark Carroll County first hit in 2006 and which it has maintained ever since. Only 19 percent of law enforcement agencies are accredited, Kasten said.

“They’re the top in the country,” he said.

Kasten said that he believes the Hartford force is well-positioned to receive accreditation within the next couple of years, a goal he said he would work toward.

In 2008, Kasten, then a lieutenant, graduated from the FBI’s Quantico, Va.-based National Academy for law enforcement leaders. He was promoted to the rank of major that same year.

Beginning in 2011, the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department dramatically expanded under a state-driven streamlining effort that transferred much of the area’s law enforcement responsibilities away from Maryland State Police.

As part of the reorganization, Kasten was appointed to the role of chief deputy in March 2013. That same year, he oversaw the development of a teaching program that brought officers into area schools.

Also in 2013, Kasten sought to continue his rise in the department with an election bid for sheriff; that ended in June, when he failed to win the Republican nomination for Carroll County sheriff in a three-way race.

Kasten also holds a master’s in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati, and a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement administration from Ottawa University.

Problems to Solve

Kasten’s new job will come with some challenges.

Over the last several years, Hartford has been increasingly beset by an influx of heroin and other drugs, creating a problem that community leaders say needs to be addressed with coordinated efforts between the police department, the s chool district, and other segments of the community.

The police department is also still shaking off a loss of public confidence that came with a series of lawsuits alleging serious police misconduct, including one in 2010 filed by former Wilder resident Wayne Burwell, who was pepper-sprayed and repeatedly struck with a baton in his own home by officers responding to an erroneous burglary report.

Kasten said his philosophy of police work will help him to combat crime and build on positive relationships with the community.

“I use an integrated approach,” he said. “I work with members of the community, engage our coalitions and community groups, our faith groups, and even our individual neighbors and residents in the community. That’s a force multiplier to help us accomplish more with less.”

Kasten will also face political obstacles; his role as police chief places him in the middle of ongoing tensions between various groups, including police union members, town administrators, and different factions of the Selectboard.

Kasten said he considers his role to be that of a “collaborative servant-leader,” whose focus is on public safety.

“The one thing everyone can find common ground on is public safety,” he said. “If we stay focused on community and not personality, things will work well. That’s been my experience.”

When Kasten assumes his new role on March 1, it will have been three years since former Chief Glenn Cutting resigned from the role.

During that time, there were two unsuccessful searches for chief, and also an aborted attempt to have both the police and fire departments run by a newly created public safety director position, which was filled by Fire Chief Steve Locke.

The public safety director eventually received a vote of “no confidence” by the police union.

Cutting has said that Hartford’s inability to quickly fill the position was because the town’s political turmoil has sent a bad message to prospective applicants; Rieseberg has said that the pool of qualified applicants is spread thinly throughout the country, and that it can be difficult to convince an executive-level candidate to uproot and come to Vermont’s cold climate.

Hartford Deputy Chief Brad Vail, who has shared administrative duties with Deputy Chief Leonard Roberts, said it will be good to have a chief in place.

“It’s a positive,” Vail said. “To say the least, there has been a lot of ambiguity here for the last couple of years. It’s good to have a defined leader to set the tone at the top and lead the department.”

Vail said he and Roberts met with Kasten during the interview process, and that he looks forward to working with him.

“We hope he comes in, assimilates well, and continues the forward progression of the department,” Vail said.

Vail and Roberts both applied for the position during the first search; Vail applied a second time during the second search, and neither applied during the third search, which concluded with the Kasten’s hiring.

The public is invited to meet Kasten by visiting the Hartford public safety building once his employment begins.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.

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