DALTON — A year ago, Deanna Strout was a patrol officer in her hometown of Dalton, witnessing a breakdown in leadership and morale from within the town’s police department. Today, she’s poised to take command.
It took the Dalton Select Board just 15 minutes Thursday to select Strout as Dalton’s next chief, pending contract negotiations. “She has a great plan to move the department forward,” said Robert W. Bishop Jr., chair of the Select Board, in an online session.
In a short review of the qualifications of three finalists, all board members ranked Strout — who has served with the force for 23 years and said she grew up dreaming of this career — as their first choice.
“It’s been a rough year here, and I’m super excited to move us forward,” Strout told officials during her interview Tuesday. “I love my department and I love this community.”
Strout watched the proceeding on Zoom and was all smiles after the decision, offering her thanks for the board’s trust and support.
The board’s decision closes the book on the second search that preoccupied officials over the last several months. Early this month, officials selected Thomas Hutcheson as town manager, replacing Kenneth Walto. Hutcheson is current administrator in the Franklin County town of Conway.
Strout will replace Jeffrey E. Coe, who left as chief in July after spending months on administrative leave amid questions about his management of the department.
For the past few months, Strout has served as a sergeant in charge of the day shift, after the Select Board moved to alter the command structure within the force.
Several board members praised the other two finalists — Jamie Berger, a detective sergeant with the Wayland Police Department, and Capt. Robert Derksen, who serves with the Cortland, N.Y., sheriff’s department. But they said they believed that of the three, Strout made the strongest argument about the importance of community policing, which the board had set as a goal for the department.
The board cited messages received from the Dalton business community backing Strout’s candidacy. “We had lots of letters of support for her,” Bishop said.
Strout said Tuesday that reaching out to town residents has been integral to her approach to policing for decades, before she became familiar with the term.
All three finalists underwent a formal skills assessment through a program led by a consultant. Strout came out of that with a “high well-qualified” rating, Bishop said, ahead of both Berger and Derksen.
Board members Joe Diver and Daniel Esko will represent the town in salary and contract negotiations with Strout. Diver has said the pay range for the chief’s job is in the $95,000 a year range.
Strout’s husband, Marc, a police officer in Pittsfield, is a member of the Select Board and did not take part in Tuesday’s interviews or Thursday’s decision.
Bishop praised Strout for having, in his view, the best responses to board questions not only about community policing but the need for reform within Massachusetts police departments, in light of new legislation. He also cited her education credentials, which include two master’s degrees related to police work.
While other candidates would need time to orient themselves to issues in Dalton, Bishop said he felt Strout was ready to lead. In her interview, Strout said that as a girl of 5, she’d been inspired by an uncle, a longtime Dalton police officer, to consider policing as a career. As a teenager, she joined the town’s police explorer troop — and saw her commitment to policing grow from there.
The search for chief brought 24 applications. Since last summer, a former Pittsfield chief, Anthony J. Riello, has served as interim chief. Strout praised his influence on the Dalton department and said she looked forward to continuing reforms Riello began.