Editorial: In Weare, a shortage of transparency

Last modified: 9/18/2014 12:47:59 AM
As codes of conduct go, “Do as I say, not as I do” is not a very good one.

But in Weare, it seems to be the motto by which the police department continues to go about its business despite promises of change.

On Saturday, an assistant to Chief John Velleca named Jennifer Posteraro obtained an emergency restraining order against her boss, whom she accused of assaulting her in a Hillsboro home. On Monday, a judge granted her a new restraining order and the next day, the Weare Board of Selectmen placed Velleca on 30-day paid administrative leave, which the chief requested.

It’s important to mention that Velleca has not been charged with a crime and, through the chairman of the board of selectmen, denies any wrongdoing. The chief also conveyed his hope that the allegations against him will not make his efforts to repair the department’s reputation more difficult.

But they will.

Velleca arrived at the department in October, less than three months after Alex Cora deJesus of Manchester was shot and killed by the Weare police following a botched drug sting. The changes Velleca made to the force were immediate and substantial. He suspended undercover narcotics operations, curbed abuse of overtime and detail work, and put a greater emphasis on training and procedure. He required that officers wear cameras to record their interactions with the public. He also said all of the right things to a small community that had grown tired of seeing the proud town of Weare in the news for all of the wrong reasons.

If investigators turn up enough evidence to charge Velleca, the damage to the still-recovering department would be significant. But even if his denial is supported by the facts, questions will remain about Velleca’s ability to protect the integrity of the department.

That problem is exacerbated by an incident at his previous job.

In 2008, when Velleca was a lieutenant in the New Haven, Conn., police department, where he rose to assistant chief before taking the job in Weare, a 12-year veteran police officer named Jodianne Novella accused him of degrading and ostracizing her. The city later settled the suit for $20,000 while maintaining that the payment was in no way an admission of guilt, the New Haven Register reported.

But like the current allegations, it isn’t purely a matter of guilt or innocence, but also perception. To be effective within the communities they serve, police departments have to make every effort to allow the light to shine on all they do.

When he was appointed chief, Velleca said he was “a big believer in transparency,” but he and his department have shown little of that this week. Silence is common during an investigation of this nature, but the people of Weare deserve something, anything from their police department. It doesn’t have to involve details about the allegations, but a thorough public explanation from the chief’s deputy about how the department handles evidence collection in domestic violence cases and internal allegations of sexual harassment would certainly feel more transparent than the chief’s hackneyed statement delivered via the board of selectmen. Even more important is reassurance from the department that nobody is above the law and that all claims of physical assault are handled with sensitivity and compassion.

If the allegations against Velleca turn out to be true, the course of action the town must take will be clear. If the claims are determined to be unfounded, Velleca must use the incident to further his understanding of what transparency and integrity mean in practice rather than just in principle. The town of Weare deserves a police department it can be proud of and that requires an abundance of trust and faith.

Velleca made a good bit of progress in rebuilding both after taking over the troubled department. That progress and more will be undone if the public perceives that the investigation of the allegations against the chief are not being handled fairly and openly.


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