New leaders, era at Seabrook police
Seabrook Police Chief Lee Bitomske and Deputy Chief Mike Gallagher have seen it all at Seabrook PD, both coming up through the ranks and working at the department for decades. It's true, they admit, there have been differing factions within the staff who developed loyalties to one or another group or former chief and it's caused problems.
But those days are over, Bitomske and Gallagher said, and they've explained that to the men and women under their command. There's a new vision at the department, they said, one of good communication, unity, service and professionalism.
"We had a departmental meeting recently, and we haven't had one of those in years," Bitomske said. "Mike and I set the record straight for our new administration. The past is the past. It's over. We move forward together from here on out."
Problems within the department came to the public's attention nearly ten years ago after an episode that highlighted the divisions among officers erupted in an ugly contest following the selectmen's choosing newcomer Bill Baker to take over as police chief in late 2003, instead of then Deputy Chief David Currier. As officers took sides, the situation grew nasty, eventually leading to Baker resigning after only five months, and Currier, who is now retired, being named chief in 2004.
The Baker/Currier debacle plagued Seabrook for years, having its impact on the way some in the community viewed the department.
In recent years Seabrook's officers worked hard to rebuild the department's reputation. They did it by catching bank robbers within hours of incidents; rounding up theft rings; solving crimes; making arrests; getting convictions; fighting the town's drug problems with some innovative methods, including using social media; and most recently, with the new bicycle patrol which got officers out of the station and their cruisers, interacting up close and personal with the people in the community. they've sworn to protect.
"We have an outstanding department with men and women who give 100 percent," Bitomske said. "We expect people to do a good job."
Understanding that rumors and innuendo within the department have caused problems in the past, Bitomske and Gallagher said, that's something they want to avoid. They want department staff to feel comfortable coming to them when rumors arise, and not to let things fester, allowing the divisiveness to continue.
"At the meeting I said, 'If you've been on one side of the fence or the other in the past, let's get rid of the fence and get on with things. We want a positive attitude,' " Gallagher said. "Since the meeting, I've had a number of officers come to me and say we said what needed to be said, what they wanted to be said."
In coming weeks and months both Bitomske and Gallagher said subtle changes will make a big difference. Officers have asked for more in-house training opportunities, Bitomske said, and if the budget allows it, that's a goal. And there are other goals.
Enhancing communications is a big part of the plan, the men said, both within the department and within the community. Along with the bike patrol that was so popular with residents this summer, Bitomske hopes to renew the department's motorcycle group.
They'll be a new lieutenant soon, promoted from among current staff, who'll take over the position Gallagher held the past four years, Bitomske said, and there could be other shifts within the department.
Bitomske's emphasis with officers has stressed professionalism, being accessible and accountable for actions taken.
"And I've told them not to do anything stupid out there, 'cause that's what's going to come back and bite them," Bitomske said, and smiled.
Both Bitomske and Gallagher said the meeting went well, with officers leaving understanding and accepting there's a new attitude at Seabrook's police department. But, just in case there's still a hold out or two who want to hold old grudges, Bitomske left on a final message.
"I told them, "If you can't get over the old way of doing things, get on the Internet and find yourself another job somewhere else," Bitomske said.