Sunday, December 8, 2013
FAIRFIELD — One of the first big jobs facing Fairfield's new police chief will be addressing concerns raised in an independent review, which says the department lacks a clear chain of command, among other problems.
Fairfield Police Chief Thomas Gould, pictured in his office today, recently received a report from the Maine Chiefs of Police Association that gives advice on making the department run more efficiently.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
“With effective leadership, a defined chain of command, written policies and increased training, the Fairfield Police Department can resolve any current issues.”
Maine Chiefs Association report
Thomas Gould took over as police chief in mid-July, succeeding former Chief John Emery, who resigned in March. Skowhegan police have charged Emery with driving under the influence in December.
While the department was under interim leadership, the Fairfield Town Council hired the Maine Chiefs of Police Association to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the department and to make recommendations. The reviews, a regular service offered by the chiefs association, are conducted in a number of Maine's police departments every year.
The review panel, made up of three veteran police chiefs, found that the department's employees have suffered low morale as they worked under out-of-date, boiler-plate policies, no clear command structure, and a perception that some administrators within the department have played favorites in hiring and promotions.
Gould said he is taking steps to resolve the issues raised during the review, which he said are mostly a matter of having the proper paperwork in place.
"The officers for the most part do an excellent job," he said. "It's just a matter of cleaning up the paperwork."
Fairfield Town Council member Harold "Jim" Murray said he felt the review was fair, and that it needed to be done to resolve issues in the department, which has 10 full-time officers and nine part-time officers.
He said he feels Gould will fix the problems the panel uncovered, and that the department is now on the right path.
During staff interviews, review panel members were surprised to learn that different employees had different ideas about who was second in command, they wrote.
Their first recommendation was for the new chief "to establish clear lines of authority quickly."
While there were many criticisms, the panel found that none of the issues were insurmountable.
"With effective leadership, a defined chain of command, written policies and increased training, the Fairfield Police Department can resolve any current issues," they wrote, describing the staff as "a dedicated group."
Most of Fairfield's policies and procedures, according to the report, were adopted without modification in 2006 and have not been updated since.
The practice has resulted in "serious, significant issues" that open the town to a risk of legal liability, the panel members wrote.
The report called a practice of allowing officers to review the policies on their own without supervision or having to answer questions about the material afterward as "a disaster in the making."
Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said the problems in Fairfield's department are not unusual. There isn't a police department in the state that could go through a review without generating some recommended changes, he said.
As best practices modernize with increasing emphasis on documentation and technology, many departments with long-standing administrators get left behind, Schwartz said.
"This is nothing to do with the previous chief, but when you're chief and you've been in the job for eight or 10 years, there's ways that you do things," he said. "When a person's been in a place a long time, you become routine and things need to be perked up."
Emery, whose criminal case is scheduled for a hearing in Somerset County Superior Court on Sept. 18, served the department for 27 years, including 12 as chief. Emery went on an extended leave of absence after a Dec. 24 incident on Palmer Road in Skowhegan, where Emery lives. On that day, 15 law enforcement officials, some high-ranking, from three agencies responded to a call about a "mental subject," a police radio term for someone who is acting strangely or irrationally.
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