Brian Pattullo

Civilian administrator Brian Pattullo is working with the command staff at the Salem Police Department to implement changes recommended in a recent audit report.

SALEM — Former Andover, Mass., Police Chief Brian Pattullo just spent his first week sitting in the office of Salem Police Chief Paul Donovan as the department’s civilian administrator. The town hired Pattullo to implement recommendations laid out in an independent audit report released last month, which was critical of its internal affairs program, record-keeping and citizen complaints processes, and its culture.

Donovan, who had been absent from headquarters since last month, announced Thursday he’ll be resigning at the end of December.

So, what’s next for the Salem Police Department?

Pattullo said he is not there to be an adversarial presence.

“I’m here as a conduit for change,” Pattullo said.

He has met a number of times with Town Manager Chris Dillon in recent days, and has had a chance to speak with department management and introduce himself to rank and file officers during roll call.

Pattullo said he hopes to get to know more of the officers with one-on-one meetings and ride-alongs starting next week.

He’s reviewed the unredacted 177-page report by Kroll Inc., a redacted version of which was released to the public on Nov. 23. And he plans on sifting through many of the department’s policies and the terms of its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in the coming weeks and months.

Deputy Chief Robert Morin was made the “officer in charge” directly under Pattullo, which means Morin takes orders directly from Pattullo. Donovan is still officially chief until Dec. 31, and has authority directing daily operations, but Pattullo said he has authority over Donovan as a direct reporter to Dillon.

Pattullo is a civilian and is not certified to be a member of law enforcement in New Hampshire.

“I don’t have law enforcement authority,” Pattullo said.

He has the same authority as the chief to discipline staff up to termination if necessary, within the parameters of the CBA, but Pattullo doesn’t expect to be restructuring the staff in the near future.

“I haven’t gotten that far yet,” he said. “At the outset, it’s a very well-staffed department.”

Pattullo also hasn’t coached any officers since coming on.

Pattullo said any changes will be small until Donovan retires.

He said some changes recommended in the Kroll report have already been implemented by Donovan, such as retaining all records of internal affairs investigations, including those that resulted in “not sustained” or “unfounded” dispositions.

He said Donovan also directed investigators to do more follow-throughs on cases. Kroll found that several citizen complaints and internal affairs investigations were not sufficiently investigated and thorough, including a police investigation into the arrest of a youth hockey coach during a chaotic scene at the ICenter on Dec. 2, 2017.

The audit report said police closed that investigation in under 24 hours without interviewing the complainant or their witnesses, and later selectively interviewed witnesses who supported the police officers’ version of events months later after “adverse” media reports.

While a controversial complaint form, which asks complainants to attest to the facts under penalty of perjury, is still in use, Pattullo said citizens are no longer required to use it.

“I’ve directed the deputy chief and the command staff that any and all complaints will be accepted,” Pattullo said.

Pattullo said he’s looking at potentially changing that form.

Moving forward, Pattullo hopes to continue improving the department’s internal affairs program. And he hopes to work collaboratively with the command staff in doing so. Pattullo said he has a “participatory style” and an “open-door policy.”

“They have to have a voice in that change,” Pattullo said.

So far, he’s found the staff to be respectful and professional, and accepting of a new civilian administrator despite high anxiety and uncertainty that has plagued the department during the Kroll investigation.

“It’s not an easy thing to … have another set of eyes looking at things,” Pattullo said.

He said it’s easy, especially after the recent scrutiny of problems in the department, to overlook the positive things it’s doing, such as its community outreach and civilian police academy, its crime prevention programs, canine unit and motorcycle units, for example.

Pattullo downplayed concerns over the culture of the police department.

“Sometimes, perception becomes reality,” Pattullo said. “In my first week here, I’ve seen nothing but professional police officers that present themselves extremely well. … It’s a little early for me to tell.”

ldnews@unionleader.com

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