MANCHESTER — Police Chief Nick Willard announced Tuesday he is immediately suspending the long-held practice of "chief days," a paid day off used to recognize a Manchester officer's good work or encourage positive behaviors such as working an entire year without calling in sick.
Chief Willard described "chief days" as an unofficial or internal policy and said they are economically preferable to the city's compensatory time policy.
"Chief days" were disclosed in a May 31 claims letter sent by Manchester attorney Olivier Sakellarios to top city officials. Sakellarios claims that his client, Amanda Rogers, was coerced into sex by two Manchester police officers offering to have charges against her dropped.
Fired police officer Darren Murphy "was taking ‘chief days' to have sexual intercourse with Ms. Rogers," Sakellarios wrote.
Willard said he awarded Murphy the day for his work in locating Mark Heath, whom police charged with the Dec. 11 murder of 2-year-old Jacob Pelletier.
"Somebody taking a chief day, it's not an authorization to misbehave," Willard said.
Willard fired Murphy in February and fellow detective Aaron Brown in April. Both are the subject of a criminal investigation being handled by Strafford County Attorney Thomas Velardi to avoid any questions of conflict by the Hillsborough County Attorney's office, which handles most felony prosecutions in Manchester.
In an email sent to city aldermen Tuesday afternoon, Willard writes that "chief days" have been "part of the police department's protocol" since he became a Manchester police officer in 1992.
"In fact, I was awarded one for the rescue of a kidnapped child when I was a street cop in the mid-90s and another for solving a string of armed robberies in the late 90s when I was a detective," writes Willard. "It's been a long-held practice."
Manchester Human Resources Director Jane Gile said she was unaware of the practice. And former mayor Ted Gatsas said he was unaware of "chief days" and would not have approved of the practice.
Asked whether the days are an off-the-book payment or bonus, Giles said, "it seems like it, but we need to do more investigation."
"The intent is probably noble, it sounds like it's a practice to reward people who do outstanding work, but I don't think there's anything we have implemented in the city to use a day off as that kind of recognition," she said.
A spokesman for Mayor Joyce Craig said in a statement that the mayor was aware of chief days.
"The decision on whether to continue this practice is up to the chief of police," said Lauren Smith, Craig's director of policy and strategic outlook, in a written statement.
Craig has declined multiple interview requests regarding accusations against Murphy and Brown since last week. On Tuesday, Smith said Craig was too busy for an interview.
Email to aldermen
In his email to aldermen (which can be viewed below), Willard said he was reaching out because he was aware the Union Leader was writing a story about "chief days," "so out of respect for each of you and the questions you may have from the article, I thought I would explain what a "chief's day" is." He acknowledged speaking to Gile this week about the days.
"She advised that she had never heard of the practice and had no knowledge of it," said Willard. "Given that our city's Human Resource Director had no knowledge of it, I am suspending the use of chief's days immediately. I had never questioned the use of them prior to my discussions recently about them."
Willard writes that he will "make efforts to contact previous chiefs in an effort to ascertain when the practice started," and determine how it was put into effect, such as did the police chief receive authorization to implement the practice from the mayor or the human resources director serving at the time.
Former Chief David Mara awarded a chief day to officers who took no sick days for an entire year. In the previous fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2017, 47 officers received a chief day for no sick days.
Mara said that is an impressive improvement from his days as chief, when only around 20 officers would go a full year without taking a sick day.
"I think it's pretty impressive that 47 police officers did not call in sick during a whole 12-month period," he said. "That's a lot of officers and that saves a lot of overtime. That's eight hours of pay that saved eight hours of overtime."
Seen as more economical
Another 41 officers were awarded a chief day for their work with Footrace for the Fallen; Willard said the event could not take place without the planning and security provided by officers.
Four others got a chief day for recruiting a certified officer from another community to the Manchester Police Department, something that saves weeks of salary when an uncertified officer must go through police training at the state level. Sixteen got a chief day for being officer of the month or officer of the year. (Some months involved multiple awards.)
Willard said he issued five chief days for outstanding work during the same period, including the arrest of a serial robber on the West Side.
In his Tuesday email to aldermen, he included a postscript that read: "Any officer that uses any day off that he/she is either awarded or owed is still expected to live by the moral and ethical code they swore to on the day they were hired."
Willard said an officer can't claim a chief day on a day when his or her shift would have to be filled by overtime. And, he said, a chief day is more economical than the city policy of "time coming."
Under time coming, a worker who would regularly be off can fill a shift at straight pay but later claim compensatory time a time and a half, which would mean 12 hours in the case of an eight-hour shift. Willard said an officer can only claim eight hours with a chief day. When a worker leaves the city, he or she can cash in any unused time coming, Willard said. That option isn't available for a chief day. Officers are eligible, however, to receive compensation for up to 400 hours of unused vacation time upon leaving the department.
"For me, as a manager, a chief day is better than time coming," Willard said.
"Any officer that uses any day off that he or she is either awarded or owed is still expected to live by the moral and ethical code they swore to on the day they were hired," added Willard.
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The complete email to aldermen from Willard is below:
From: "Willard, Enoch" Date: June 19, 2018 at 2:32:47 PM EDT Subject: Chief's Day
Dear Mayor and Aldermen:
Tomorrow's Union Leader contain a story about "Chief's Days", so out of respect for each of you and the questions you may have from the article, I thought I would explain what a "Chief's Day" is.
A "Chief's Day" is a day off with pay granted by the Chief of Police either as an incentive or for a job well done. An officer can not use a Chief's Day if the day off requested would cost overtime. Some examples of Chief's Days in FY17 are as follows:
Incentive – Chief Mara noticed an increase in overtime due to the number of sick days officers were taking. If an officer calls in sick, the department often has to backfill the position with overtime. Chief Mara then made the decision to award a Chief's Day to any employee who had perfect attendance in the calendar year, a practiced I continued. Frankly, it saves money in backfilling positions and more actual man-hours are being worked, increasing productivity. Last year 47 employees had perfect attendance. I would venture to guess that MPD has one of the lowest sick usage in the city, however I do not know that as a fact.
Discretionary For a Job Well Done - 5 officers received Chief's Days for outstanding jobs; two for the arrest of a serial armed robber on the Westside and the others for the arrest of Mark Heath, who had murdered a two year old child. Although he was on the run to avoid capture, the officers located and arrested him.
Chief Mara also authorized Chief's Days for Officer of the Month as well as the Officer of the year, which I also continued during my tenure as Chief.
Day Off In-Lieu – Some Chief's Days are the same as a Day Off In-Lieu, which is the officer worked a shift or an event on a day off and would normally take another day off in which they were scheduled to work, so long as it did not require overtime. An example of this is the Footrace For the Fallen Road Race. If not for the countless officers planning the event and actually working the event on their days off, we would not be able to have the event due to the overtime cost. The officers worked on their off time to make the race happen and I awarded 41 "Chief's Days" for the race. Although the officers would be entitled to a Day Off In-Lieu, I use a Chief Day as an expression of my appreciation.
It's important for me to point out, that Chief's Days have been part of the police department's protocol since I became a Manchester police officer in 1992. In fact, I was awarded one for the rescue of a kidnapped child when I was a street cop in the mid 90's and another for solving a string of armed robberies in the late 90's when I was a detective. It's been a long held practice.
In speaking with HR Director Jane Gile, she advised that she had never heard of the practice and had no knowledge of it. Given that our City's Human Resource Director had no knowledge of it, I am suspending the use of Chief's Days immediately. I had never questioned the use of them prior to my discussions recently about them.
I will make efforts to contact previous Chief's in an effort to ascertain when the practice started and how it was put into effect (did the chief receive authorization to implement the practice from whoever was the Mayor or even the Human Resources Director was at the time)?
I hope this helps with your understanding. I will avail myself to any of you if you are inclined.
PS – Any officer that uses any day off that he/she is either awarded or owed is still expected to live by the moral and ethical code they swore to on the day they were hired.
Nick Willard Chief of Police Manchester Police Department