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Recent allegations against NH police chiefs lead to greater scrutiny, other chiefs say

New Hampshire Sunday News

April 14. 2013 8:23PM

Recent allegations of bad behavior or poor judgment by New Hampshire police chiefs have given "a black eye" to all law enforcement officers.

That's according to police chiefs interviewed last week, who said police rightly are held to a higher standard of personal and professional behavior.

"You have to be above reproach," said Kensington Police Chief Mike Sielicki, who becomes president of New Hampshire Chiefs of Police Association in June. "You have to have more integrity in what you do, and that gives credibility to our profession."

"So when this happens, that erodes that public trust and that crediblity, and it takes time to restore that."

In recent headlines:

--New London Police Chief David Seastrand resigned and gave up his certification as a police officer, in a negotiated disposition with the Attorney General's Office, after a college student alleged the chief offered to drop charges against her if she allowed him to take nude photos of her. That office is now investigating complaints from "several" other women about the former chief.

--Danville Chief Wade Parsons was charged on Friday with a violation-level offense in connection with the March 11 suicide of a 15-year-old boy who lived at his residence. Authorities say the chief had left his service weapon unsecured in a closet when he left home to do some errands that evening.

--After his office dropped felony theft charges against a former Auburn police officer, Attorney General Michael Delaney released a letter disputing Auburn Chief Edward Picard's public statements about the case, which involved a rifle held as evidence back in 1992. Delaney also said Picard withheld key documents in the case until shortly before the former officer's scheduled trial.

Sunapee Police Chief David Cahill said such incidents hit the law enforcement community, and the departments involved, hard. "Because it's a strike from above," he said. "It's the leader. It's the mentor."

When one chief is accused of wrongdoing, it affects others, Cahill said. "I do feel like you're under a cloud," he said.?"Because I'm now painted with that same brush as that person is, and that's not true."

So he braces for the expected comments. And he tells his younger officers this is why integrity matters. "A lot of people will tell you that the definition of integrity is doing the right thing even when nobody is looking," he said. "Your good morals, your integrity should be built into your fabric."

And that begins with the person at the top, Cahill said. One of his former chiefs gave him advice he follows to this day: "If you can't go home every day at the end of your work and sit at the dinner table and talk with your family about what you did, then there's a problem."

Derry's chief, Edward Garone, is the longest-serving police chief in New Hampshire and one of only three chiefs in the entire country who have served their communities for more than 40 years. He said the recent allegations against his fellow chiefs are "certainly a black eye" for police.

When he was a new officer, he remembers being told: "People will look at you differently. They will hold you to a higher standard, and if you're not willing to accept that, don't get into this profession."

Garone said that's a fair expectation. "We are entrusted with a tremendous amount of authority given us by those we serve," he said.

Integrity and moral character is drummed into police officers from the first week of police academy, according to Capt. Mark Bodanza, in-service bureau commander at the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council.

It starts with a strict background investigation into any candidate, he said. And the 14-week training, he said, "begins with honesty and integrity and truthfulness and doing the right thing."

The council recently added a unit on ethical behavior and social media, Bodanza said: "Understand that you have now entered into a career that is not necessarily behind closed doors in your private life, and you must make good decisions on and off duty."

Earl Sweeney, the state's assistant commissioner of safety, is the former director of the Police Standards and Training Council. He said it's rare for police chiefs here to make the news for alleged wrongdoing and said "the rest of the profession should not be judged by the misbehavior of the few."

Still, Sweeney said in an email, "Police work is one of society's more stressful occupations and, like water wearing away at a rock, the longer someone stays in the profession the more stress they have experienced and the more temptations they have been subject to, and occasionally you see a radical behavior change that nobody who knew them would have predicted."

Police chiefs live their lives in a "fishbowl," Sweeney said, scrutinized by subordinates, political bosses and ordinary citizens. "Unfortunately, because the police are in the business of holding the rest of the community accountable for its behavior, when a police chief is accused of misbehavior, it makes big news."

New Hampshire is stricter that most states when a police officer is found guilty of wrongdoing, Sweeney said. The Police Standards and Training Council decertifies such individuals, barring them from getting another job as a police or corrections officer.

Enfield Police Chief Richard Crate said such cases are a reminder "that we have to have the checks and balances in our system."

And he said while he understands that some feel such incidents tarnish the reputation of all police officers, he thinks some good can also come out of the negative publicity.

"If those allegations are true, then we want people to come forward with those things. We want them to feel that they can trust the investigators that are looking into these cases...and that the system works."

Crate grew up in Enfield. "So when I go to bed at night, I want to make sure that the officers out there are the best that they can be, and also protect the citizens that we've all sworn to protect."

Last week, the hearts and minds of New Hampshire's law enforcement community were not only on the alleged misdeeds of their peers.

On Friday, the state was remembering Greenland Chief Michael Maloney, who was shot to death during a drug raid in his town a year earlier.

"I hope that most of the police and public are thinking of Chief Maloney today and not of these other situations," Garone said on Friday. "Chief Maloney is truly one of our heroes."

And Cahill recalled Maloney was just days away from retirement and could have chosen not to join a drug task force's raid that fateful day. "But here's a guy who was a team leader and team member and wasn't going to let them do anything he wasn't going to do. And unfortunately, he gave the ultimate sacrifice.

"And it could happen to any one of us. We just never know."

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