Ray Duckler: New London police chief? We always liked the guy
Tina Barton, owner of the sandwich shop right over there, knows the chief.
Served him lunch, many times.
And Peggy Holliday, co-owner of the book store across the street from the sandwich shop, knows him, too.
So does the reporter for the local newspaper, and the talk-show host for the local radio station, and many students at the local college.
David Seastrand, chief of the New London Police Department? Great guy. Professional. Helpful. Respectful.
So how can this be? How can this chief, the man with a spotless reputation, the cop with all those years on the force, the leader of a department that keeps residents safe, be accused of something so awful? Trying to persuade a young woman, a student at Colby-Sawyer College, to pose nude for pictures in exchange for dropping charges of underage drinking?
“Genuinely a nice guy to everyone,” said Barton, who lives in Andover. “It’s a hard thing to hear that, what with your perception of the guy.”
Doesn’t seem possible, in fact. Seastrand had been a New London cop for 27 years, before the attorney general’s office forced him to quit but refrained from charging him with a crime.
Officially, Seastrand resigned, agreeing to relinquish his certification as a police officer, meaning he’s done as a cop, forever.
But everyone in town knows that “resign” is used loosely in this case. Seastrand avoided court, but, based on the deal he made, many in town believe that he did, indeed, harass this unnamed woman in some manner.
“In this situation, where I’m very much aware that these are only allegations, it is what it is,” said Ben Sarro of Enfield, host of a local talk show mornings from 6 to 9 on 99.7 WNTK. “I mean, the guy stepped down, and agreed not to work at other police forces, which tells you what my opinion is.”
Sarro was just one of several locals who expressed disbelief. “I know him a little, but everyone in this community knows him well; love him,” Sarro said. “It was a shock. Chief Seastrand had a heck of a reputation.”
Then Sarro goes on to tell the story about his producer, who once ran out of gas on Main Street, but quickly got help from the chief. “Just a few months ago,” Sarro said. “Seastrand made sure to get him off to the side of the road and managed traffic. He said, ‘Dave, don’t worry about it.’ ”
There are other stories. Like the one told by Holliday, co-owner of the Morgan Hill Bookstore. She once held an early-morning Harry Potter promotional event and asked the chief for help.
So the chief helped.
“The place was mobbed, and the police had to come to direct traffic,” Holliday said. “He was wonderful. He would help the children cross the street. He’s really been good in the community, and from my point of view as a citizen, I think he’s been an outstanding chief of police.”
Barton says she served a sandwich to a town official earlier this week, after Seastrand had mysteriously announced his retirement, but before we knew that an investigation had been launched by the attorney general’s office. The official was sad the town was losing a professional like Seastrand.
“She said it brought tears to her eyes when he announced his retirement,” Barton says. “I think he’s very loved in town.”
The stories kept coming, the ones that simply don’t jibe with the accusation levied at Seastrand. Barton remembers this winter, when a young girl, perhaps a high school student, was pulled over by Seastrand in front of her sandwich shop, near the adjoining gas station.
The chief stopped the girl because she hadn’t cleared the snow off her car. Wearing a skirt and open shoes, the girl, shivering, wiped off some snow, then went inside to pay her bill.
And get warm.
“He finished cleaning off her car for her,” Barton says. “She was freezing, her hands were red. I said to her that that was really nice of him to not give her a ticket and clean off her car. He was genuinely a nice guy to everyone.”
Which is why the topic is hard to digest. It’s also hard for some, mainly female students, to address. One young woman, a student at Colby-Sawyer, listened politely to a columnist yesterday. Once realizing what he wanted to talk about, her smile disappeared, she handed the writer’s card back, then said, “I have no comment, sir. I have to get to my next class.”
Another said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Still another was more specific about why the topic made her feel uncomfortable: “Sorry. It’s the nature of what happened and the fact that it’s a police officer.”
She was but one voice on a busy day on Main Street. There was the buzz about the chief, with three TV stations getting their sound bites for news reports later on. There was also the excitement connected to Accepted Students Day, when high school seniors come to town to register for classes and tour the college.
Candy Tischofer came from Bow with her daughter. “The police are supposed to be protecting you and not bribing you, which is what this was, as far as I’m concerned,” Tischofer said. “These kids depend on them.”
The tone from the town had a different feel, more personal, more painful.
Barton’s daughter is a sophomore at Colby-Sawyer. She relayed these words, spoken by her daughter shortly after the news broke.
“ ‘Mom, he seems like such a nice guy. He always was so nice, and I feel like he died or something.’ ”