Heather Hamel

HEATHER HAMEL

MANCHESTER — For the first time in the city’s history, the liaison between the police department and the public will be a civilian and not a sworn officer.

The Manchester Police Department has announced that it hired Heather Hamel, who worked as a reporter for WMUR from 2005 until this year, to be its public information officer. She will take on many of the duties previously held by Capt. Brian O’Keefe.

“I’ve really formed relationships with a lot of officers here and I like what they do,” Hamel said. “I know that one of the things they’re hoping to achieve by having a civilian PIO is somebody who can really put a positive spin on the police department, make sure that the police department — all of their achievements, all the good work they do on a daily basis, is really showcased.”

Hamel was born in Rhode Island and has worked for television stations in Charleston, S.C., Plattsburgh, N.Y., and White River Junction, Vt.

A public information officer is the main point of contact within a police department for the press. The position has become even more important in Manchester since 2016, when the police department encrypted its radio transmissions.

Police Chief Carlo Capano said the hiring of a media-savvy civilian is aimed at improving the department’s connection to the community.

“I truly believe that Heather will bring a completely different feel to the position and all her experience in the media world will only enhance what I want to accomplish as an agency,” he wrote in a statement. “I’m looking forward to the proactive work that Heather will be involved in which will help with our branding. I anticipate that the public will soon see more social media and a much closer and personal side of the Manchester Police Department.”

Over the past year, the department has been at the center of several high-profile news stories — from a scandal involving two fired officers accused of sexual assault and other misconduct to a 15-hour standoff at the Quality Inn last month, during which officers were subjected to hours of sporadic gunfire.

Hamel said she hopes the trust she earned in and around Manchester as a WMUR reporter will help the public feel more comfortable around the city’s police officers.

“Summer’s around the corner and (the community policing division) is going to be out there walking the streets and getting to know a lot of the citizens and I’d like to be right alongside them so people see that there’s nothing to be feeling uncomfortable about with the Manchester Police Department,” she said. “Of course they have a job to do but they’re just like any one of us. They want to be your friend and they’re there to serve.”