Letter To The Editor: Human Rights Commission Condemns Abuse Directed At Belmont Police Officers

Photo: Members of the Belmont Human Rights Commission

To the editor:

The Belmont Human Rights Commission condemns the acts of hate directed at Belmont Police officers over the past months.

The recent report by Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac to the Select Board, as reported in The Belmontonian on Sept. 14, that Belmont Police officers are facing an increasing amount of verbal abuse from some members of the public was both shocking and disturbing  (http://belmontonian.com/featured/belmont-police-officers-increasingly-targeted-with-verbal-abuse-from-the-public/).  MacIsaac reported that officers were experiencing derogatory slurs yelled at them on a weekly basis. 

While BHRC decries the Black lives that have been taken at the hands of some police officers across the country, directing anger and vitriol at members of the Belmont Police Dept., who are not those police officers, is an act of hate that BHRC strongly condemns. MacIsaac and the Belmont Police Department have supported police reforms within their own ranks, student action on Black Lives Matter, and been consistently open to dialogue with community members on issues of race and conflict. We commend them for their initiatives and their responsiveness to our community.

We all need to let our police officers know that we support their work in our community and communicate with them directly when we have a problem or complaint. Lashing out in an abusive manner is never acceptable by anyone and only contributes to the current rancor that has led to violence and discord across our country. We all need to unite together to address this kind of unacceptable abuse and make sure that Belmont is a safe place for everyone, including the officers who make up the Belmont Police Department, who are an integral part of the Belmont community.

Belmont Human Rights Commission

Worst Kept Secret Revealed: Donahue, MacIsaac Finalists To Be Next Police Chief

Photo: Belmont Police Chief search is down to two.

It must have been the worst kept secret around town for the past month.

But today, Thursday, Nov. 21, it can be revealed that Belmont Police’s Lt. Christopher Donahue and Assistant Chief James MacIsaac are the two finalists selected by the Police Chief Screening Committee and will be interviewed by the Belmont Select Board on Monday, Dec. 9, at 6 p.m.

Both candidates are currently employees of the Belmont Police Department. The interviews will be televised by the Belmont Media Center.

Copies of Donahue and MacIsaac’s application materials, inclusive of their respective plans for their first year on the job are available at www.belmont-ma.gov

Search For New Police Chief Starts Inside Department This Week

Photo: Mark Paolillo (left) and James Hicks.

Five candidates from within the Belmont Police Department have begun the selection process to become the town’s next Police Chief as the committee established to review the applicants has begun its work this week.

The candidates will go before the Police Chief Screening Committee in executive session to present a Powerpoint presentation of a 12-month plan for running the department and answer prepared questions. The finalists could potentially be asked to attend a public forum to meet and greet residents.

And while some members of the nine-member screening committee have expressed their willingness to add candidates from outside the department, the chair of the committee said it will closely follow the charge provided by the Belmont Select Board this past spring.

“We were told to come up with at least two internal applicants who meet the qualifications to be presented to the [Select] Board,” said Mark Paolillo, the former three-term Selectman and the son of a Cambridge police chief.

“Ultimately, it’s [the Select Board’s] decision to decide to move forward on the next chief,” said Paolillo, who reminded the group that it would be advantageous to complete the process sooner than later as current Police Chief Richard McLaughlin will retire on Dec. 31.

A diverse committee made up of residents, seniors, schools, community groups, town officials and a current police chief – James Hicks of Natick – met for the first time on Sept. 5 and unanimously named Paolillo chair.

The Police Chief Steering Committee.

Paolillo said with the help of Rick White of Gerux White Consulting – the municipal management consulting firm that assisted the town in hiring Patrice Garvin as Town Administrator and Belmont Light’s general manager Christopher Roy – “and based on some feedback we got from the community … and on our own feedback,” the committee will create a set of criteria that applicants will need to meet to be recommended to the Select Board.

“We want it to be a robust process. This will be the chief of police for the next whatever number years, so we must get it right,” said Paolillo.

A few members believed that expanding the pool of candidates with law enforcement professionals outside of Belmont would be advantageous to the process, recalling McLaughlin was a long-time member of the Arlington PD (although he is a lifetime resident of Belmont.)

Hicks – who noted he was hired twice as an outsider in both Bedford and Natick – said moving initially with only current Belmont Police personnel could be problematic if the committee decides that only one or none of the candidates are selected to be presented to the Select Board.

“You could be in a situation where you’ll be saying that ‘one or two are still in the running but we’re going to open it up [to outside applicants].’ I think it’s a confusing message to send to the internal candidates if that occurs,” he said.

With a wider pool, “it sends a message that the process is vital to everyone,” said Hicks.

But Paolillo said the select board’s charge to the committee is clear and “we want to first look internally, [and] determine if we have qualified candidates that … meet the qualifications to serve as the next police chief.”

Asked after the meeting if the committee is unable to send two candidates forward, Paolillo saidthan that’s just the way the process worked and we’ll then proceed with external candidates.”

As for what the community is seeking in a new chief, White interviewed department heads, the ranking officers, some patrol officers, members of the Middle and High School Building Committee and some residents and found that “universally everybody has great regard for chief McLaughlin and what he’s accomplished as a leader.”

“They liked the way he’s engaged the community, the departments, the schools, and improved the footprint of the police department from where it was when he first came. And everybody without exception, said we’d like someone to take what [McLaughlin] built here and build on it,” said White.

One area that the public would like to see a new chief commit to “is a much more diverse workforce … by demographically representing the area,” said White.

Belmont Officers Want Insider For New Chief

Photo: Belmont Police Department’s Todd Benedetti speaking before the Belmont Board of Selectmen

Representatives from the Belmont Police Department’s rank and file and their superiors were speaking from the same hymnal at Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting, asking the board to limit its search for a new chief from within the force.

With several officers with extensive professional development and advanced degrees in criminal justice, “I honestly don’t believe you’ll find any finer leaders then what we have in this department,” said Belmont Police Sgt. Ben Mailhut representing the department’s Superior Officers Association 

At the end of the meeting, the board authorized the writing of a Request for Proposal (RFP) seeking a consultant to assist the town in finding a replacement for Chief Richard McLaughlin who is retiring on Dec. 31, 2019.

In a March 14 memo to the Selectmen, Belmont’s Human Resources Director Jessica Porter wrote that while there are arguments to keep the search inside the department – cost, consistency of departmental operations and morale – including external candidates will allow for a greater pool of professional applicants. She reminded the board it has had success selecting from outside including the appointment of the Town Administrator, the Belmont Light General Manager and Town Accountant.

“There’s pluses and minuses [when including an external search]. On the one hand, you don’t want to discourage people who are internal from moving up and on the other hand you really don’t know what’s out there until you start looking and we’ve made several hires from the outside,” said Selectmen Chair Adam Dash.

In an attempt for a compromise, Selectman Mark Paolillo put forth a two-step approach in which internal applicants would be vetted and only if no one meets the criteria for the position, only then would outside candidates be brought forward.

Belmont Police personnel made it clear their preference where the next chief should come from. Belmont Police Department’s Todd Benedetti said officers like himself, supervisors and the public “are watching this meeting and are very concerned with the possibility that the town spending thousands of dollars on an outside search when there are viable candidates inside the department.”

“Why not interview these candidates first then go to the outside if it is necessary,” said Benedetti, noting that closeby communities such as Watertown, Lexington, Waltham and Arlington are staying inside the department as it will ease the transition and keep morale high. With the renovation of police headquarters soon to be underway, “this is not the time” for an outside hire  “to come in and get used to the department.”

“Our officers believe in our internal candidates and believe it will allow in an easy transition through these tough times,” he said.

Porter presented a four-part recruitment process to the board:

  1. Hiring a consultant/search firm to assist the town.
  2. Whether or not the consultant conducts an assessment center; ie mock exercises involving real-life situations which the candidates would resolve a problem or
  3. Create a nine-person screening committee consisting of  Mark Paolillo, who is leaving the selectmen in April, Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan, a representative from the schools such as a principal, a president or member of a PTO, two residents, someone representing the Council on Aging, and a current police chief from a neighboring town.

Under the plan’s timeline, the issuance of the RFP will occur in July, and the screening committee appointed in mid-September. Finalists for the position will come before the selectmen in November and a final vote among the candidates in mid-November.

If all goes to plan, Belmont’s next police chief’s first day will be Jan. 6, 2020.