June 22. 2018 2:50AM

Manchester police 'chief day' origins murky

New Hampshire Union Leader

MANCHESTER — Information about the origin and extent of the police department’s “chief day” perk is proving elusive, even for the men who doled it out.

Three former Manchester chiefs — Louis Craig, Peter Favreau and Mark Driscoll — said on Thursday that they had no recollection of the unorthodox practice, whereby chiefs rewarded certain officers with paid days off that did not count against their earned vacation time. It does not appear that anyone outside the department ever knew about or approved the policy.

But current Chief Nick Willard said he received a chief day in the late 1990s for solving a string of armed robberies and has records that contradict his predecessors’ memories. He provided the Union Leader copies of a 1998 letter Driscoll signed granting an officer a chief day and two other letters to Driscoll, from 1999 and 2000, requesting that he approve chief days.

He did not, on Thursday, share records showing that Craig and Favreau had signed off on the rewards, but he said other officers recalled them doing so.

“I can’t speak to (other chiefs’) recollection, but as long as I’ve been an officer we’ve had chief days,” said Willard, who joined the force in 1992.

He suspended the policy on Tuesday but the city has since opened an audit. At the top of the list of questions: Who started the practice? Did they seek approval from the mayor or aldermen? How many chief days were given out? And how much has it cost the city?

When a Union Leader reporter called Driscoll back to ask about the signed chief day letter, he said he simply did not remember the policy.

“I have no clue; you’re talking 16 years ago,” he said. Driscoll was chief from 1996 to 2003.

His predecessor, Peter Favreau, who led the department from 1994 to 1996, initially said there was no chief day policy when he was with the Manchester police. Later, he said it was possible that he had signed off on chief days but did not remember.

Louis Craig, who was chief from 1991 to 1994, was adamant that the practice did not exist during his time.

“I did not start it, and I never even heard of it until I read it in the paper the other day,” he said. “And I can tell you that my predecessor, Chief Tom King, did not start it because I was his assistant.”

Craig is the oldest living Manchester chief and the father-in-law of the current mayor, Joyce Craig.

John Jaskolka took over from Driscoll in 2003 and served until 2008, when he retired and was replaced by David Mara, who in turn made way for Willard in 2015.

Jaskolka and Mara both said they gave out chief days during their time in the top job. But neither they, nor any of the other living chiefs, could remember how the practice started or who authorized it.

Unaware of policy

Mayor Joyce Craig first learned about chief days on June 1, when an attorney sent the city a notice that his client, Amanda Rogers, intends to sue because two former police officers allegedly used their positions of power to coerce her into sex. One of those officers, Darren Murphy, used chief days to meet with Rogers for sex, according to that letter.

Previous mayors also say they were never told of the reward system.

Ted Gatsas, who preceded Craig, said he was unaware of chief days and would not have approved of the practice.

Ray Wieczorek led the city from 1990 to 2000 and never heard about it; neither did Frank Guinta, who was mayor from 2006 to 2010. Bob Baines, mayor from 2000 to 2006, could not immediately be reached for comment.

“When you’re giving away people’s money, it should appear.” Wieczorek said. “Where does it appear in the budget, or is it one of these unofficial things? ... I don’t remember seeing anything like that in the budget.”

Details about how the rewards were given out are as murky as who started it, but it seems to have grown in recent years.

Since at least Mara’s time, officers who went 12 months without taking a sick day received a chief day.

Mara said that he rarely had more than 20 officers who went an entire year without using a sick day, and therefore earned a chief day. Willard has said he awarded chief days to 47 officers in 2017 for not using sick days.

Previous chiefs also said they did not award chief days to officers who participated in Footsteps for the Fallen, an annual charity run that honors officers who died in the line of duty.

In 2017, Willard gave 41 officers a chief day for participating in the event.

The Manchester Police Department employs about 237 and has a 2019 operating budget of $25.2 million, the city’s second-greatest annual expenditure after schools.

While other Granite State police departments said they did not have any reward system similar to chief days at least one, Concord, does occasionally reward its employees with eight extra vacation hours, although its process differs significantly from Manchester’s.

Each year, Concord Police Chief Bradley Osgood recommends that the officer and civilian employee of the year receive an extra day off. The request goes to the city’s human resources department and then to the city manager for approval.

The money to pay for the vacation time, and performance rewards for employees in all city departments, comes out of a designated employee recognition fund and there is a record of each such day.

“It’s infrequent that we do it with vacation time,” Osgood said. “More of our recognition has to do with spirit awards — these $25 gift cards and things.”