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Weare appoints new police chief

The Weare Board of Selectmen has unanimously appointed John Velleca of Durham, Conn., as the town’s next police chief, an announcement that came yesterday in the aftermath of federal lawsuits and in the middle of an attorney general’s investigation at the department.

Velleca, 44, most recently served as the acting chief of the New Haven Police Department in Connecticut. He began his career at that department as a patrol officer in 1992, according to a release from the town, and has held leadership positions in nearly every major unit.

Chairman Tom Clow said Velleca stood out among more than 50 applicants for the job as “a very forthright person.”

“My feeling is that (Velleca) is a man used to respect, not respect out of fear but respect out of the accomplishments he’s had and out of his integrity,” Clow said.

Moving from the New Haven Department of 440 sworn officers to the much smaller Weare Police Department will be a change for Velleca. But in a phone interview yesterday, Velleca said he felt drawn to the job posting in Weare based on his past experience in New Haven.

“They have a frustrated community up there, and they’ve had some issues,” Velleca said. “Usually in those types of situations, a lot of people won’t take that job. But that’s something I’ve been doing my whole career. . . . I have a track record of success in these types of environments, bridging the gap between the police department and the community and making both sides understand each instead of being frustrated.”

Velleca will visit Weare for the first time Monday, and he said he has not yet communicated with any members of the police department, which has faced a number of legal troubles over the past several years. Aside from multiple federal lawsuits filed against the Weare police, Lt. James Carney has been on administrative leave since March while the department investigates allegations against him that include threatening members of his staff, transporting alcohol in a town vehicle and having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a town employee. Carney has sued the town for more information about that investigation.

Most recently, two Weare officers shot and killed a fleeing suspect during an undercover sting operation in August. The attorney general’s office is still investigating that incident, while both of those officers have also been placed on paid administrative leave.

“I’m a big believer in transparency, and to be honest, that’s not something I see right now,” Velleca said. “And that will definitely change.”

Velleca will take over for Interim Chief Mike French, who succeeded Art Walker earlier this month. Walker had served as interim chief since former chief Gregory Begin retired May 31 and ended his three-year term early. Voters decided in March to make the police chief, an office formerly elected by the town, an appointed position. The town contracted with Municipal Resources Inc. to assist with the search for its new chief.

Velleca will bring his wife, Lori, and their 2-year-old daughter, Jenni, to Weare with him. The town has not yet set his start date.

“We’ll establish a culture of integrity in the police department,” Velleca said.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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