Weare crafting new hiring process for police chief

Last modified: 11/21/2014 12:11:45 AM
The Weare Board of Selectmen said last night that it has met with state law enforcement officials and is considering appointing a citizen board to help search for a new chief to lead its embattled police department.

During a packed public forum that lasted more than two hours, the board said it is crafting a new hiring process that could also include more stringent background checks. Selectmen said they do not plan to turn to Municipal Resources Inc., the consulting firm they paid tens of thousands of dollars last year to help find former chief John Velleca, who resigned last month.

Velleca, who served for a year, was accused of assaulting his administrative assistant in September following a brief romantic affair. He was never criminally charged, but officials in Weare launched an internal investigation at the end of October. Jennifer Posteraro, the assistant, has been on paid administrative leave since September.

Deputy police Chief Sean Kelley is leading the department until the town finds a replacement.

The board also recently rescinded the firing of former police sergeant Joseph Kelley, who was terminated last year for allegedly falsifying documents shortly after a deadly drug bust involving five officers.

The board said it has been working with the attorney general’s office and the state police to develop a new hiring process. That could include citizen review and visits to a candidate’s previous place of employment.

“No one’s more frustrated than the five of us up on this board,” Selectman James Leary said.

Frustrated residents offered both criticism and praise of the department, acknowledging it is presently short-staffed. The 12-officer department has one vacancy, two others are on medical leave and a fourth is training with the National Guard through the end of this year. The department currently outsources calls to the state police between 3 and 7 a.m.

Some residents recommended disbanding the department altogether and relying on coverage from the state police or county sheriff’s office. Selectmen Chairman Tom Clow said the state police has said it doesn’t have the money to cover the town full time. The board is waiting to speak with the sheriff’s office, he said.

Others cautioned against outsourcing or replacing the department with a private firm, which was considered prior to Velleca’s hiring. Some suggested the town hire a town manager who could hire and fire employees, or re-establish a local police commission to provide better oversight of the department.

The board also announced last night that the town has spent more than $300,000 since 2012 on legal fees, lawsuit settlements, paid administrative leave and consulting fees.

Sean Kelley said the department continues to make improvements that Velleca laid the groundwork for during his brief tenure, and is working toward accreditation, an accolade that only about 15 departments in the state have. He said assessors will evaluate the town this spring.

Selectmen said they had also begun recently requiring the deputy police chief to attend weekly board meetings, regardless of whether a police item is on the agenda. “We are guilty of placing a lot of trust in the administrators we hire,” Selectman Keith Lacasse said of previous standards.

Much of the feedback from residents was directed at administrative issues with the police department and not with the police officers themselves. Many thanked the officers for their work in town.

A series of burglaries and attempted burglaries occurred about 3 a.m. Monday in Weare. Barbara Annett said she looked out her window Monday morning and spotted two people outside. Within a few minutes of calling the police, officers were at her home. “I cannot tell you how grateful I was,” she said.

(Staff writer Jeremy Blackman contributed to this report. Susan Doucet can be reached at 369-3309, sdoucet@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @susan_doucet.)


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