Egremont hires private agency to review police department
EGREMONT -- Town leaders have hired a prestigious private agency headed by a distinguished eastern Massachusetts attorney, investigator and former police chief to conduct a complete review of the police department.
The action by a unanimous vote of the Select Board at Monday night's meeting follows a mutiny by the town's unionized officers that led to the board's decision two weeks ago, also by a 3-0 vote, to place Police Chief Reena Bucknell on administrative leave with pay.
Attorney Robert J. Pomeroy of Pomeroy Resources Inc., based in Plymouth, told The Eagle on Tuesday that he will conduct a thorough, top-to-bottom study with several associates.
"We'll be talking to all the employees and examining records relating to the department," Pomeroy said. "I look at this as management study, but there may be things during the study that will require investigation."
The Select Board expects the investigation to be completed within three weeks, according to Town Administrator Mary Brazie, who is also a member of the Board.
Select Board Chairman Bruce Turner emphasized the complete, wide-ranging nature of the investigation, "so nobody can accuse us of railroading the chief. Everybody's going to know what's going on, whatever the end result is. We'll do what has to be done in the best interests of the town."
The Select Board's decision to suspend Bucknell came on Feb. 19 in response to a petition signed by five of the town's seven full- and part-time officers stating that the entire department had taken a unanimous no-confidence vote challenging Bucknell's leadership.
In a separate letter to the Select Board, Officer Jeremy Pilone described a "hostile work environment" fostered by the chief. Pilone is now serving as acting police chief. He declined comment Tuesday on the latest developments.
Bucknell, an Otis resident who became the county's first female police chief when she was named to the Egremont post 15 years ago, has not responded to an Eagle request for comment. She has been unreachable because her cell phone's voice mailbox is full. Bucknell has headed a criminal justice program at Berkshire Community College; a call to the department's office there was not returned.
Pomeroy, who was police chief in Plymouth from 1992 to 2008 and subsequently interim chief in the towns of Hamilton and Sandwich, submitted a formal proposal for the $9,800 management study to the Egremont Select Board.
Pomeroy's report aims to determine the "optimal organizational structure" for the police force, as well to review how the force is allocated and deployed, along with recommendations to improve the department's efficiency. Pomeroy's proposal intends to identify "operational issues, management-labor issues, and equipment and technology requirements."
Expected recommendations are to include a range of options to "address the management needs and public safety requirements of the town of Egremont."
The investigation will begin with a meeting involving "appropriate police managers and town officials" and will include interviews and ride-alongs with the staff, a site visit and evaluation, and a final report.
Documents to be examined will include the town charter defining the role and authority of the police chief, the department budget and the union contract covering the officers, who belong to Teamsters Local 404, as well as charts detailing the department's organization, staffing and deployment.
According to Selectman Turner, Pomeroy's study amounts to "a full investigation, and it goes beyond that to analyze current operations and make recommendations going forward."
"I would hope he would interview Chief Bucknell," Turner told The Eagle in response to a question. "We want to make this as fair and impartial as it can be, so she ought to be included."
While Bucknell was not invited to attend the Feb. 19 Board meeting, nor were any of her officers, she appeared before the Selectmen the next day to turn in her equipment, said Turner.
He explained that, as outlined by Town Counsel Jeremia Pollard, state law requires that personnel matters involving professional competence must be discussed in an open meeting, as it was. When personnel discussions involve private concerns such as health, the discussions are to be held in executive session, said Turner.
"There are times when you have to air your dirty laundry if there is dirty laundry to be aired," he added. "We want this to be as fair, honest and open as we can make it. She will be given her just due, according to the law."
Following the investigation, a public hearing will be held to determine whether or not Bucknell will retain her job, Turner said. "It's a very formal process and she's allowed to be represented by counsel," he noted.
Pomeroy's credentials include a master's degree in criminal justice from Bridgewater State College, training at the FBI National Academy, and since 2008, investigations of police forces in Melrose, Hamilton and several other towns, development of "use of force" policies for a regional hospital and a private college, and service on a team investigating the internal affairs division of the Hartford (Conn.) Police Department.
He has been admitted to practice law in Massachusetts state courts, the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.