Bucknell defends record, seeks return to police force
EGREMONT -- Six months after being placed on paid administrative leave as police chief, Reena Bucknell could return to the town's police department in some capacity after making her case for reinstatement before the Board of Selectmen.
Following a lengthy three-hour hearing on Monday night, which included remarks from Bucknell and her attorney, Selectmen stated they would call on the town attorney to negotiate Bucknell's possible return to the department after she defended point-by-point her management of the department.
Bucknell has served as the police chief for 15 years, and she was placed on administrative leave following a vote of no confidence by the department's then-seven full- and part-time officers.
During Monday's hearing, Bucknell said she wanted to be reinstated through Dec. 31 to finish her work.
"I firmly believe my record over the last 19 years should stand for something," Bucknell told Selectmen.
Selectmen agreed to retain Bucknell through Oct. 31, despite questions raised about her management in a consultant's report. The decision was made despite Bucknell's accusation that the board was eager to assume control over town government and her claim that Selectwoman Mary Brazie harbored a grudge against her.
During her comments, Bucknell accused the board of violating employee procedures by not providing her a quick hearing that tarnished her reputation.
"The board being eager ... to seize an opportunity to discredit me used a variety of petty issues raised by officers who have only been employed several months and are still on probation as their excuse," Bucknell said.
Whether Bucknell would resume the role of police chief or as a consultant or some other role hasn't been determined because there are lingering questions about whether the officers would work for her.
"She volunteered to leave after Dec. 31," Selectmen Chairman Bruce Turner said. "If we do something prior to that, there could be lawsuits. If we can avoid those at all cost, that saves everybody money and the emotions. There's a lot of emotion tied to this. This isn't easy stuff."
Turner said the Selectmen would spend the next several months searching for a full-time police chief. Interim Police Chief Brian Shaw will continue working at the department until terms are negotiated for Bucknell's return, he said.
Speaking publicly for the first time since she was placed on paid administrative leave, Bucknell sat side-by-side with her lawyer, Worcester-based Michael Akerson, throughout the lengthy meeting. There was a large crowd of residents and law enforcement to express support for Bucknell.
Reading from a prepared statement, Bucknell noted she has never been reprimanded or disciplined, she carefully manages the budget, and she noted the town has never faced a lawsuit because of the police department.
Bucknell addressed concerns raised in a consultant report produced by Robert Pomeroy of Pomeroy Resources Inc. and questioned their accuracy. Her attorney also brought forward a "witness," retired Pittsfield police chief Anthony Riello, who said the report's findings should be further scrutinized.
Consultants detailed thousands of dollars in new law-enforcement equipment purchased in 2006 that have never been used. Bucknell said there were complications over the software not communicating with in-house computers, and she said there were ongoing efforts to have the software installed.
The report detailed several peculiar issues in the department, including two second-floor storage rooms that Bucknell kept off-limits to all but herself. Bucknell said one of the rooms served as an evidence locker, and she kept the room locked to prevent tampering. Another served as a room to keep office items.
There was 20,000 rounds of ammunition discovered, which the report said was likely 10 or more times the amount of ammunition an eight-person police department would need.
Bucknell said the ammunition was used for routine officer training. She also said ammunition can be scarce and she was purchasing it at a good price.
"For me, it's being fiscally prudent, not irresponsible. The room was always secure," she said.
The report also said Bucknell posted a "hot list," which had the names of 200 people, including an unnamed town official and his wife, that officers were supposed to pay particular attention.
Bucknell said the "hot list" was a practice she adopted from the Pittsfield Police Department. Riello, the former Pittsfield police chief, was called up as a witness and confirmed this.
Consultants also detailed "high risk" issues from an under-trained and mostly inexperienced police force. Bucknell said she would routinely sign up officers for training, but they backed out.
With regards to high turnover among officers, Bucknell downplayed it, saying the officers were moving on to full-time employment or larger departments. She said the department averaged about three position changes a year.
During her remarks, Bucknell also said it's been a very difficult period for her. She said since being put on administrative leave she has been afraid to go outdoors and she's only driven through Egremont twice.
Turner focused his questions around the safety of having 20,000 rounds of ammunition in a storage closet, especially if there is a fire. He also asked questions about protocol with regard to safeguarding armed weapons.
Selectwoman Brazie asked Bucknell if she would be able to overcome the rift in relationship with her officers.
Bucknell responded, "I am aware there is a lot to overcome."
To reach John Sakata:
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