Willard: More than 100 officers received 'chief days'By MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader
June 19. 2018 1:57PM
MANCHESTER — Police Chief Nick Willard has acknowledged the existence of “chief days,” a paid day off used to recognize an officer’s good work or incentivize positive behaviors such as working an entire year without calling in sick.
Chief Willard described a chief day as an unofficial or internal policy and said they are economically preferable to 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 a chief 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.
City’s Human Resources Director Jane Gile says she was unaware of chief days. And former Mayor Ted Gatsas said he was unaware of chief days and would not have approved of the practice.
Asked whether chief 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 is 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.
Willard said the practice has been in existence for “generations” and was already in place when he started as a patrolman in 1992. He said he received a chief day for solving a string of armed robberies in the 1990s.
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Willard said the protocol for chief days is known by everyone in the police department, including his business service officer, who coordinates them.
He said former Chief David Mara decided to award 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.
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.
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.