After a year and a half without a police chief, Salem Town Manager Chris Dillon appointed Joel Dolan as acting chief effective Wednesday.
Dolan has been the officer in charge since January 2019 and has served as the department’s deputy chief since June 1, 2019.
The department has been overseen by Administrative Chief Brian Pattullo, a contractor from Municipal Resources Inc., and the former police chief in Andover, Mass. Pattullo has no law enforcement authority in New Hampshire since he is certified in Massachusetts.
Dillon told the Union Leader Wednesday that he has complete confidence in Dolan, especially after seeing him manage the department during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and recent civil unrest related to the killing of George Floyd, police brutality and systemic racism across the country.
“He’s done an amazing job in that position and helped navigate some uncharted waters,” Dillon said of Dolan.
Dolan has been in law enforcement for 25 years and has served in Salem since 2003. He has quickly risen through the ranks over the past two years following a 2018 audit by Kroll Inc. that triggered a leadership shakeup and four criminal investigations into high-ranking officers.
Dillon said Dolan’s title will include “acting” until the Board of Selectmen decide whether to amend town policy to allow for a police chief to work under an individual employment agreement. Currently, only the town manager has an individual contract.
He said the board will likely discuss it at the next meeting on July 13 or on July 27.
Either way, Dillon said the position is budgeted for a salary of about $140,000 annually. The town manager has the sole power to appoint a chief, and Dolan is empowered with the full rights and authorities granted a police chief under state law.
The appointment will help the department move on and continue to make improvements to its policies, procedures and culture, he said. But Dillon stressed that the issues identified in the Kroll report were not reflective of the department as a whole.
“The men and women at the Salem Police Department are some of the finest that I’ve met,” Dillon said. “The majority of the issues that were brought to light through the Kroll report involve just a few members of the police department.”
Originally, Dillon intended to do a nationwide search. He said a Request For Quotation (RFQ) was drafted and sent to 15 headhunter agencies. They received three quotes in response at the beginning of April, but Dillon said they were too costly, especially considering the requirements to conduct the search and interview process virtually.
In subsequent weeks, Dillon punted the task to Assistant Town Manager Bill Scott, who worked to chase down other agencies who didn’t respond to the RFQ, while Dillon focused on the immediate needs of day-to-day operations.
By late May, Dillon decided to pivot to an internal search. He said he began talking to officers in the department to gauge what they wanted to see happen with the agency.
He also sent an online survey to the whole department and some former Salem officers in mid-June that asked: what it means to be a police officer; what are the biggest challenges the department faces; should the next chief be an internal or external candidate; what important qualities they’d like to see in a chief; and what issues the next chief should focus on.
Dillon said he has received 52 responses, including a handful from former officers. Of those still in the department, he estimates 75% of respondents wanted an internal candidate.
Pattullo was brought in after the town released former Chief Paul Donovan at the end of 2018 following the publication of a damning 177-page audit report of the police department that found problems with the department’s culture, internal affairs investigations process and payroll issues.
Dolan, who was then a captain, became officer in charge after former Deputy Chief Robert Morin was placed on administrative leave in January 2019, when the state Attorney General’s office launched a criminal investigation into Morin.
In addition to Morin, three other former and current senior officers, including Donovan, are still under investigation or in the middle of court proceedings.
Dillon said Pattullo will transition to a part-time consulting position effective Wednesday. Pattullo was originally paid $87 per hour but, after it became clear he was going to stay longer than anticipated, Dillon said, his salary was set at $180,960 annually, paid on a monthly basis beginning in July 2019.
As of Wednesday, Pattullo has gone back to the hourly contract, Dillon said.
Dolan has a master’s degree in administrative leadership and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He attended the 238th session of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., among other certifications.