GILMANTON — According to selectmen, a recently completed organizational and risk assessment of the town’s police department will be used as a road map to guide efforts to improve the law enforcement agency.
During a Monday night board meeting, representatives of Municipal Resource Inc. gave an overview of the 70-page report and answered questions from the public — a process that lasted nearly two hours.
The report, which was posted on the town’s website last week, was, in areas, critical of Chief Matthew Currier’s leadership.
“Unfortunately, time and again, MRI found scant obedience to agency directives at all levels of the organization, demonstrating a lack of leadership,” the independent audit says.
Among the deficiencies identified in the report was Currier’s failure to conduct background checks or physiological examinations of prospect officers, instead accepting the outcomes of investigations conducted by a candidate’s prior police department.
MRI also cited the practice of the Gilmanton Police Association of accepting donations and buying equipment for officers without going through the process of having town government accept ownership, and without keeping inventory of potentially high liability equipment such as Tasers.
The assessment further identified an incident in which Currier circumvented the spending limit of department heads by splitting a $3,819 purchase at Belmont Firearms into five separate transactions.
“This incident appears to be an effort to evade the $1,000 purchase limit for department heads then in effect and to spend down the account within several days of year end,” the report says.
Steve McWhinnie, who lost his bid for reelection as chairman of the board of selectmen the day after MRI’s report was completed, asked if Currier had correctly completed background checks on department personnel.
Alan Gould, MRI president, who served more than 21 years in law enforcement, including tenures as chief in both Salem and Rye, said the background investigations were not done in accordance with New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council policy.
McWhinnie also queried whether Gould believed that the police department had cooperated 100 percent with the audit process.
“We had some scheduling issues,” Gould said. When he reviewed the department’s personnel records, Gould said, Currier barred him from taking any notes.
“No one has ever told me I couldn’t take notes before,” Gould said.
“Personally, I feel very uncomfortable with my background information in someone’s lap. I find it very disconcerting,” said Julian Guidry, who identified himself as one of three officers currently working for the police department.
That background information, Guidry said, includes a psychological evaluation that includes responses to such questions as to whether you have ever had any deviant thoughts, and the results of a polygraph examination that could reveal a “yes” response to “employer theft,” for taking home a box of paper clips.
“I understand how you feel, but that’s not your choice,” Gould replied.
There needs to be a process in place in which comprehensive background checks on prospective hires are completed, Gould said, and that information needs to be shared with selectmen so that they can be assured only suitable candidates will be hired.
Responding to questions about what MRI felt were the top three things that should be addressed, Gould mentioned improving the relationship between the selectmen and Currier; hiring officers to fill the two vacant positions; and updating department policies, some of which have remained unchanged since they were drafted by a prior chief in 2007.
“I think it can be resolved easily, but a line has been drawn in the sand. While it is in court, people can’t cooperate,” Gould continued. “To me everything flows out of that trust with the board of selectmen. They control the purse strings and are more willing to fund things like connecting the cruiser computers if they trust each other.”
“It’s all transparent now but was non-public before. There is no mention of it in the minutes. Now MRI’s report is on the town’s website,” said town resident Sandy Guarino.
Town Counsel Attorney Eric Maher explained the town’s hiring of a law firm was not subject to the right-to-know law. Once the MRI report was complete it was given to the selectmen, Currier and his attorney.
Gould said MRI completes about a dozen risk assessments of police departments annually and makes its report public once finished.
“The way that this happened isn’t unusual,” he said. “What we would love to see is the police and the board forget about the lawsuit and make it happen,” he said.
“We have met with the chief collectively and we want to work with him. There are some sticking points that we want to unstick and we’re looking at it as a road map. On our part there is a willingness to help,” said Selectman Mark Warren.
“I want to say we don’t have a bad police department. I don’t think this (operational assessment) was to slam the police department in any way. Now we can help them to become a great organization,” said Selectman Michael Wilson.
Selectman Marshall Bishop, whose term expires next year, did not attend the Monday night meeting.
Town resident Pete Pickney said the dispute between the police and the selectmen has heavily divided the town and has been fueled by “some very caustic Facebook sites.”
Pickney said his understanding was that the safety glass in the town offices to separate staff from the public was installed “because of our police threatening one of our own employees.”
Speaking to the department’s alleged failure to perform clean-slate background checks on new hires, Pickney suggested that as a result of a domestic violence incident there had been a police officer who couldn’t legally own a firearm.
“Did we have a cop in town that shouldn’t have been a cop? Can you touch on that? This town has got a lot of healing to do,” he said.
Maher said he appreciated Pickney’s passion, but asked that MRI speak very generally about the background investigation process.
“That’s why background investigations need to be comprehensive and the selectmen need to know. And hiring should not take place until they are 100 percent satisfied,” Gould said.