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Weare awaits new police chief, backs out of contract with private security firm

Last modified: 10/4/2013 12:02:02 PM
With a new police chief waiting in the wings, Weare has terminated a short-lived contract with the security firm Greystone that would have produced a plan for the town to shut down the town police department and turn its operations over to the private company.

Chairman Tom Clow said the Weare Board of Selectmen has picked the town’s next police chief and will announce the choice soon. The decision comes against a backdrop, revealed in minutes from a meeting last month, of the board’s deep concern over the police department – and disagreement over how to handle the department’s problems.

“I think the town’s going to be real excited when they meet this person and we move on with our future department,” Clow said.

That future department could have been closed in favor of a contract with the private firm Greystone Ltd., which has offices in Bermuda, Chesapeake, Va., and the United Arab Emirates. On Sept. 9, Selectman Keith Lacasse proposed a $9,348 service agreement between Greystone and Weare that would essentially lay out a blueprint for the company to take over police operations in the town.

The contract provided for two “qualified police officer consultants” to assess the department, and then outline a plan and estimate costs for Greystone to operate in Weare, according to meeting minutes and Lacasse. It did not yet finalize any agreement for Greystone to replace the town’s police department. Lacasse brought the contract to the board during a nonpublic portion of the Sept. 9 meeting, but the selectmen later unsealed a portion of those minutes.

Contentious proposal

The prospect of a contract with Greystone, which is affiliated with the high-profile private security firm formerly known as Blackwater, was a contentious one. The five Weare selectmen split the vote, 3-2, on the agreement, with Selectmen John Lawton and James Leary voting in favor of the contract alongside Lacasse. Clow and Vice Chairman Richard Butt came down against it.

Discussion over the agreement lasted nearly an hour and extended well past midnight. The minutes include strong opposition from Butt during the board’s talk.

“Vice Chairman Butt stated that this is the worst possible time for this,” the minutes read. “We are ready to interview potential police chief candidates and with this agreement, no one would want to come here. Timing is poor and officers will probably leave. Not disclosing this to the potential applicants would be dishonest.”

The unsealed minutes also show Clow walked out of the board meeting at 1:15 a.m. after the vote.

“That’s not in character for me,” Clow said. “But I was very much opposed to (the contract). I just believe that a police department should be closely connected with the community, and even though we’ve had a lot of issues over the past few years with our police department, we have a good building block with our officers. . . . We see it as real potential for the future.”

Lacasse said “an accumulation” of issues with the Weare Police Department led him to investigate private security options for the town several months ago. While he would not specify which issues he found troubling, the department has faced multiple federal lawsuits in the past several years. 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. Both of those officers have also been placed on paid administrative leave, and the attorney general’s office is still investigatng the incident.

‘Born out of frustration’

Lacasse’s idea of a contract with Greystone “really is born out of frustration, out of the number of issues that we’ve dealt with the police department in the past few years. . . . Different people have different ideas on how to solve those problems,” Clow said.

Lacasse signed the agreement on behalf of the board, and the selectmen convened again Sept. 19 to interview the three finalists for police chief.

“The candidates we interviewed were top-notch and really good,” Lacasse said in an interview. “I started to feel like these guys may be able to help us out in town, and as I got to know the candidates in interviewing them, I thought more and more about what this agreement means and what the potential effects could be on them if they were awarded the position. Specifically, if we awarded somebody a position and they relocated their family and a few short months later, we tell them we’re closing down our police department and contracting with a private security company to operate it.”

After the interviews, Lacasse made a statement at the board’s Sept. 23 meeting, elaborating on his attraction to Greystone but proposing to terminate the town’s contract.

His statement is recorded in a draft of the meeting’s minutes.

“It is no secret that we have been struggling in dealing with issues related to the behavior of our government PD, and that a large majority of our nonpublic sessions and legal expenses are spent in nonproduct discussions about the Weare PD. . . . There are communities in America that have abandoned the paradigm of government PD, and instead have opted to hire private security at a lower cost and with better results,” his statement read.

‘A glimmer of hope’

While the town could legally close its police department and contract with Greystone, Lacasse said in his statement, he felt confident a newly hired police chief could improve the tone in Weare.

“For the first time in quite a while, a glimmer of hope has been restored that with the (proper) leadership, the culture of our PD can be changed to one of community service about self-service,” the minutes read.

The selectmen voted unanimously at that meeting to terminate the service agreement with Greystone. The town will not face any financial penalty for ending the contract, Lacasse said.

“We can move on,” Clow said.

Voters decided in March to make the police chief, an office formerly elected by the town, an appointed position. Since former chief Gregory Begin retired May 31 and ended his three-year term early, the town contracted Municipal Resources Inc. to sort through more than 50 applicants for the position.

Interim Chief Mike French, formerly of the Goffstown Police Department, took over the department last week. He succeeded Art Walker, who served as interim chief since Begin’s retirement. While some towns across the state have turned police operations over to the state police, Lacosse said he does not believe any other New Hampshire police departments are run through private contracts.

The selectmen will announce the new chief when Municipal Resources completes a final background check.

Lacasse said he had faith the incoming chief could correct the departmental issues that caused him to first reach out to Greystone.

For now, at least.

“It’s not in the back of my mind right now, but if a new police chief would not be able to change the culture in our department, then, yeah, . . . I would reserve the right to purse that agreement (with Greystone) again.”

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


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