Hartford police chief eager to follow family back to Maryland

  • Phillip Kasten (Town of Hartford photograph)

  • Hartford Police Chief Phil Kasten (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2021 8:56:20 PM
Modified: 1/11/2021 8:56:36 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Hartford Police Chief Phil Kasten’s decision to leave the department after six years is a result of his family’s recent move back to Maryland, he said.

“It’s a decision I have not come by easily,” Kasten said Monday, adding that his wife and children returned to Maryland in September so his wife could help care for her 92-year-old mother. Kasten will join them after his position officially ends Feb. 5, and said he plans to take on a new job as a consultant for public safety agencies.

“The (Hartford) community has been very supportive of my family and I,” the 47-year-old Kasten said, adding with a laugh, “This will be the first time since 1993 that I’ve not worn some kind of uniform.”

Kasten, who was previously the chief deputy in the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office northwest of Baltimore, was hired as chief of the Hartford Police Department in early 2015 and makes just over $111,000 a year, according to town officials. Hartford Police Deputy Chief Brad Vail will take over as interim police chief while the town looks for Kasten’s replacement.

Kasten said he’s been proud to take on new initiatives in the Hartford community and credits town staff and fellow police for helping bring the department into the “modern era of public safety.”

During his tenure, Kasten supported improvements at Quechee Gorge Bridge to discourage suicide attempts and also established an outreach program for police officers to accompany volunteers and visit people who are homeless at their campsites.

“Police continue to be a critical link to the community, to services and providing that voice at the moment when people need it most,” Kasten said, adding that his department has tried to “build a bridge” between marginalized groups, such as people who are homeless, and the resources they need.

He also was credited with making Hartford police more youth- and community-oriented after a couple of high-profile confrontations with the public under a prior chief.

His department found itself a topic of debate in recent years, especially with the Welcoming Hartford ordinance, which bars police from sharing a person’s citizenship status with federal authorities and prohibits officers from pulling over or arresting people based on their suspected immigration status. The ordinance passed at Town Meeting in March.

Amid the discussions, Kasten raised concerns that the ordinance could run afoul of federal law pertaining to communication between government agencies and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. He also said Hartford police already did not ask people they interacted with about their immigration status. At least one board member suggested at the time that there was concern Kasten would leave the department if the ordinance passed.

When asked whether the outcome and discussions surrounding the ordinance played a role in his decision to leave the department, Kasten said, “I think it’s important to look forward” and added that he wants to focus on his next steps in consulting.

He has also served for several years as an assessor for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, according to his LinkedIn page.

Several Hartford officials said they were disappointed to hear about Kasten’s departure, including Selectboard member Joe Major, who was elected to the board last March. Major said that during his candidacy Kasten took him on a tour of the police station and told him the initiatives that the department has undertaken over the years.

“Since I won election he has been someone that I have routinely asked for opinion and sought counsel (from) and has been — I think — a beacon of what quality police work should be,” Major said, adding that Kasten has always been transparent with him. “He is a good man and tried to do the right thing at every turn.”

In the next police chief who takes over, Major said he hopes to find someone similar to Kasten.

“There’s going to be a high bar now,” Major said.

Ashley Andreas, a Hartford resident and activist who was one of the main proponents of the Welcoming Ordinance and a more recent movement to reallocate funds from local police departments to social service programs, said she wished Kasten had been a little more “vocal” in the discussions on the ordinance. However, she acknowledged that Kasten was in a difficult position as the police chief.

For the incoming chief, she said she hopes the town will find someone who is focused on ensuring Hartford is “safer and healthier and not criminalized.” She said that starts with educating students and community members about marginalized populations.

“The interaction I want to see is in the classroom. I want to see the new chief making an effort to understand how policing is classist and racist,” she said.

Selectboard Chairman Dan Fraser spoke highly of Kasten, writing in an email Monday that Kasten “increased the level of professionalism in the department.” He added that he’s sad to see the chief go.

“He has high standards, is professional and was easy to work (with),” Fraser wrote, adding that the town will likely consult Kasten as they look at hiring the next permanent chief.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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