STOCKBRIDGE -- Now that incoming police chief Robert M. Eaton Jr. and the town have signed a three-year contract, the transition leading to his official start date on Feb. 3 is accelerating.
Eaton, who is wrapping up his 23-year career on the Smithfield, R.I., police force, currently as captain, was en route to Stockbridge on Wednesday for a two-day visit.
He’ll be working with Chief Richard "Rick" Wilcox, who steps down Feb. 22 after nearly 43 years in the department, 28 as chief. Wilcox turns 65 on Feb. 17, the state’s mandatory retirement age for police chiefs.
The transition has been going very smoothly," said Town Administrator Jorja-Ann Marsden. "Eaton is very excited about coming and we’re excited about having him."
Eaton’s management contract calls for a starting salary of $85,800 with a scheduled 2.5 percent increase this July, Marsden said.
Wilcox agreed that the transition has been going well.
"I’ll be driving him around town," Wilcox said, "showing him the four corners and the lay of the land, a scenic tour of Stockbridge. He’ll be meeting people in the community’s institutions and businesses as well as people on the street."
The town’s police force is down one officer since Brian Shaw departed to become the new full-time chief in Egremont as of Jan. 1. The Stockbridge department, with a current annual budget of $614,113, normally has six full-time officers, including the chief, and six part-timers.
Hiring a replacement for Shaw is the number-one priority," said Wilcox, noting that his officers have been working extra hours to fill the gap.
Shaw was among four Stockbridge officers who applied for the top job during the town’s search for a new chief.
"Morale is OK," said Wilcox. "If you go for a position and you don’t get it, you’re not happy, but they’re mature adults and they’re doing their job."
As for other changes pending in the department, Wilcox outlined "a slew of things that have to go on."
Among them is completing the paperwork and requirements so the police force can be formally accredited by the state. "It’s necessary to do that, to be in step with the rest of the world," Wilcox said.
Accreditation includes updated policies, procedures and a hiring process.
"It solves lot of the underlying administrative issues that pop up," Wilcox said. "The result is a more professional, more efficiently run department, and protection from liability. It’s a rubric for how you do things, it’s defensible."
Said Wilcox, "There are certain things that need to be done differently from the way I’ve been doing them. It’s a different world now. Each time there’s a transition, it’s an opportunity to introduce a lot of necessary and healthy changes."
Eaton has outlined a mission to establish goals and develop a comprehensive strategic plan, working with town government leaders, the community and the department’s officers.
As for his own plans, Wilcox described himself as "ready to be retired, to slowly shift from one lifestyle to another. Book-reading is a major goal."
The new chief’s goals
Among the priorities listed by incoming Stockbridge Police Chief Robert Eaton:
-- Increase crime-prevention and problem-solving efforts.
-- Increase traffic safety initiatives.
-- Increase community policing programs.
-- Increase communications with the public through social media.
-- Update the department’s mission and vision statement.
-- Evaluate department operations, services and procedures for efficiency and effectiveness.
-- Update all policies to comply with the Massachusetts Accreditation Program.
-- Provide professional development and specialized training for all department members on a continuing basis.
-- Establish a comprehensive performance evaluation system.
-- Seek additional funding through grants.
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