HINSDALE -- The new police chief vows to have an open line of communication to all residents as he takes command of the small-town police force.

Today, Mark L. Smith officially assumes his role as Hinsdale's top cop, having spent the past three weeks getting to know townspeople beyond the headlines of divisiveness over the chief's position that has gripped the community for several months. Smith wants to be approachable throughout the community, a philosophy he has adhered to his entire law enforcement career.

"By talking to the people who live in town, they have opened my eyes and I see it's a thriving town," he said in an Eagle interview. "I said at a town meeting, ‘I want you to talk to me, I want you to question me -- it's your police department.' "

Smith's remarks followed the Belchertown resident being sworn in Sunday afternoon during a brief ceremony and community meet-and-greet at the Wayne Walton Pavilion behind the Hinsdale fire station. He plans to commute to work, until he and his family find a home in the area. Smith, 46, will earn an annual salary of $60,000

The 20-year veteran of the Granby Police Department, most recently serving as a sergeant, succeeds Charles Bassett, Hinsdale's interim police chief since former Chief Nancy Daniels was fired six months ago.

Smith's resume also includes being a police academy instructor in Springfield and working closely with several branches of law enforcement.

Select Board Chairwoman Bonnie Conner realized Smith would fit well in Hinsdale based on how he conducted himself during his public interview before the board as one the three finalists for the job.

"Instead of facing us, he turned his chair toward the audience as he wasn't just talking to us, he was talking to them," Conner said.

Smith's outgoing personality served him well as a police sergeant, according to Granby police detective Barbara Fenn.

"He listened to his subordinates ... and he was very attentive to [crime] victims and their needs," Fenn said. "I learned a lot from him."

While Smith's law enforcement career spans more than two decades, his inspiration to become a police officer came in the first grade. Growing up in Woburn, he was enamored by Philip Mahoney, a 41-year member of that city's police department, the last 25 as chief before he retired in 2011.

"I remember [Mahoney] would come to school and speak, stressing to us to always cross in the crosswalk," recalled Smith. "He was always involved in the community; that's where I got my love for law enforcement."

Smith said working in Granby, population nearly 6,200 residents, taught him to stay above the political fray of a small town, something he plans to continue in Hinsdale. He wants to move beyond the controversy surrounding Daniel's termination in January, as two of the three Select Board members voted to remove her for failure to complete training required of all full-time chiefs in Massachusetts. Daniels has told The Eagle she still plans to pursue litigation against the town.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233