Photo: Belmont Assistant Police Chief James MacIsaac
Assistant Police Chief James MacIsaac could soon be leading his hometown police department as the Belmont Select Board unanimously selected the life long resident to succeed Richard McLaughlin as Belmont’s next police chief.
“I hope to continue to serve the Town of Belmont [in] the capacity of Police Chief,” MacIsaac told the board after an hour-long presentation during a public meeting at Town Hall on Monday, Dec. 9.
MacIsaac and Belmont Lt. Chris Donahue – who addressed the board and a handful of residents on Monday – were the finalists from an original group of five selected by the Police Chief Screening Committee chaired by former Selectman Mark Paolillo.
While saying that the town “seems to have an embarrassment of riches” with two outstanding candidates for the job, Select Board’s Adam Dash believed “while Chris Donahue sounded like a great cop, I think James MacIsaac sounds like a great leader.”
MacIsaac will take command of the 108 member (with 49 sworn officers) department – pending contract negotiations with the town – from McLaughlin who is retiring on Dec. 31.
Once a contract is squared away, MacIsaac will be Belmont’s 12th full-time chief since David Chenery, Jr. was named Superintendent of Highways and Police Chief in 1877, according to the late town historian, Richard Betts.
In their presentations, Donahue and MacIsaac agreed on the need for additional support on traffic – 42 percent of all calls to Belmont Police involve traffic related incidents – assisting the elderly and strong school/police relations. Each pointed to strategies to protect victims of domestic violence which make up 90 percent of the assault and battery calls to police.
They also agreed that civil service, which provides preference to residents in entry-level officer positions, has hurt Belmont’s ability to attract an increased diverse pool of candidates.
In his presentation, MacIsaac said that “attempting to maintain the status quo within the department is not an option.” He noted that his philosophy is that all organizations are “always growing even if you’ve reached that top pinnacle.”
“So we are going to build on success that Chief McLaughlin has created,” said MacIsaac.
Among the first acts under MacIsaac’s watch will be filling the vacancies of assistant chief and captain, create strong lines of communication with an emphasis on collaborative partnership between Command staff and officers as well as be cognitive of the fiscal limitations placed on the police budget.
McIsaac will also commit to a six month evaluation of 21 specific areas of policing including staff levels, whether there is too many supervisory positions, reviewing the IT function including the possibility of adding a software specialist to the force and if the department should continue a K-9 unit.
“You need to be willing to try new things. As long as it doesn’t endanger somebody or endangers civilians or cost a lot of money, I’m willing to try just about anything … to improve the organization,” he said.
The Select Board were more supportive of MacIsaac’s approach and specifics to issues. While there were many similarities to the finalists approach to the job, “the principle difference is the fact that MacIsaac’s has been assistant chief for some time and I think he is more attune to the issues on the management side of things,” said Roy Epstein.
And Board Chair Tom Caputo said while the town would benefit with either candidate in the job, “I was engaged and excited to see the depth in which he seems to understands the issues … and the manner in which he was able to provide specific examples to almost take it to a strategic level.”
“While we have two very good candidates, the nod for me is to Jamie,” said Caputo.