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Weare Police Department seeks accreditation as reputation rebounds

Last modified: 4/16/2015 12:42:43 AM
The past few years have seen the Weare Police Department often in the headlines, rarely for good news.

Two years ago, it was a fatal, officer-involved shooting in a botched drug sting. Just six months ago, it was the sudden departure of new police chief John Velleca after he was accused of assaulting the department’s secretary, Jennifer Posteraro. Velleca was allegedly trying to take Posteraro’s department-issued iPhone, which she later said contained evidence of a brief sexual affair between the two.

“There’s been a history of substandard performance at the Weare Police Department. Let’s put it kindly that way,” said Interim Chief Sean Kelly, who previously served as deputy chief and took over when Velleca left.

Since then, things at the police department are different, according town officials and residents. The department is working toward being nationally accredited, and town officials say there’s a renewed focus on accountability, improving internal policies and beefing up safety measures.

So far, several residents say they’re pleased with the results.

Before Kelly took the reins, Velleca was already starting to pursue accreditation for the department. The designation requires police departments to follow more than 100 policies set forth by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement.

The commission is an organization created by national law enforcement agencies to set standards for departments nationwide. Going through the commission is the only way police departments can become accredited.

Accreditation isn’t mandatory; in fact, fewer than 10 departments in New Hampshire have the designation, Kelly said. Manchester, Durham and the University of New Hampshire police departments are all accredited. Concord’s force is not.

This may be in part because the process is far from easy. Accreditation is exhaustive and time-consuming, taking months to prepare and ultimately be approved, Kelly said.

As a first step, Weare police officials had to write a policy manual for the officers. This fall, the manual was completed and on Monday, commission officials came to Weare to do a site visit and hear local residents’ thoughts on the department.

In a few months, the commission will review everything and make a final determination of whether the department should become accredited, Kelly said.

And approval isn’t a simple rubber stamp. In order to maintain it, the department has to continue to show compliance with the commission’s standards every year.

“This requires real diligence,” Kelly said. “You can never allow things to go on the back burner, and that’s what people should be demanding of their police department.”

In addition to applying for accreditation, Kelly said the department has made several other recent improvements.

Some of these are as simple as having a lockbox for officers’ guns inside the police station. Others took more work, such as installing a secure wall to the evidence room and restricting access to that space for anyone who isn’t an evidence technician.

The department also has a new, locked door on its records room, which used to be more easily accessible. It has installed security cameras around the entire building and attached garage.

All of these measures improve the station’s safety and reduce the department’s liability, Kelly said.

Last week, about 10 locals showed up at the public hearing to give their feedback on department. Most said they’re happy with the changes they’ve seen in the last year.

“I will say it was quite challenging to see the newsprint from week to week, month to month, year to year . . . regarding the Weare police,” said resident Jack Dearborn, adding he believed Kelly “performed triage” on the struggling department.

While resident feedback on the department was overwhelmingly positive, locals were more divided on whether it needed to be accredited.

Although several said they agreed accreditation was a good next step for the department to show accountability, residents Neal Kurk and Frank Campana disagreed.

Kurk, who is also a state representative, said he thought the process would cost too much.

“This department is solid, respected by the community, and there’s a totally different outlook,” Kurk said. “I don’t think certification will make a difference. I’m very concerned about the cost of this.”

Campana agreed. “I don’t believe buying a plaque to hang on the wall is the right step for this department right now,” he said.

The cost of getting accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement is $8,500. The department will have to pay a fee each year, although Selectman Tom Clow said he’s unsure whether the cost will go down in future years.

Kelly admits there is a cost, but he said being accredited will have savings as well.

For instance, insurance companies that work for cities and towns give discounts to accredited police forces, Kelly said. This is because there are more standards for officers to follow, including standards that make officers get more training before they go out in the field.

“When you compare the cost of what accreditation is in fees to the management of risk, the two can’t really be compared well,” Kelly said.

Clow said he supports accreditation. “It’s something that will keep the department on track with proper policies,” he said. “I personally am very much behind it because it means there’s third-party involvement” observing the department.

But Kelly and Clow also said they believe it will go a long way in improving department morale.

“The officers now have significant guides in how to do their jobs,” Kelly said. “They have a clear understanding in what is expected of them.”

Kelly credits his officers and staff with helping make improvements to the department.

“What I have done is just point this agency in the direction it needs to go,” he said. “They have done so much work.”

Clow said he thinks the department’s morale is already “really high.”

“They just feel good about what they’re doing and all the issues of last year are behind them,” he said.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)


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