By Alex Lippa
---- — ATKINSON — The future of the police chief’s position will come down to the voters. Former selectman Brian Boyle filed a citizens petition Monday to keep the chief’s position part time for the next 36 months.
“It’s pretty traditional that any big thing that’s new always goes in front of the voters as a warrant article,” Boyle said yesterday.
Selectmen announced in October that they would be changing the position from part time to full time after recommendations from two separate consultants. The town is currently searching for a new police chief.
Selectmen’s Chairman William Friel said yesterday he will respect the voters decision.
“The great part about our political system is it includes the residents and gives them a voice and a chance to be a part of the process,” Friel said. “As always, I will honor the will of the voters.”
Boyle said the position is best suited to stay part time.
“I think they’re able to run this town on a part-time basis,” Boyle said. “I don’t know any city or town that has extra money to spend by doing this.”
But Town Administrator Bill Innes said the town would save money by making the position full time. By doing that, the town plans to reduce the number of full-time officers from seven to six.
According to Innes, by adding a full-time chief, the total salaries of the 18 officers would be $517,974. With a part-time chief and an extra officer, the total salaries would be $541,483. Last year, police salaries were $563,006.
“I’ve spent a lot of time talking to other departments and other chiefs,” Innes said. “They all say it’s time for us to go to a full-time chief.”
Friel agreed it’s time for a change.
“The full-time police chief department make-up which is proposed by the selectmen gives the residents a better police department at a reduced cost,” he said. “I am hopeful that once the residents understand that there is no increased cost for this change, they will support a full-time chief.”
Innes pointed to the Budget Committee’s recommendation to keep the position part time and budgeting only $25,000 for the position. He said that wasn’t realistic.
“Who is going to work 30 hours a week for that salary?” Innes said. “No one is going to want to do that.”
But former Atkinson police Chief Philip Consentino said plenty of candidates would be interested.
“These days, police officers retire young all the time,” Consentino said. “They would love to pick up a part-time job.”
Consentino was one of 38 residents who signed the citizens petition.
The town has seen three police chiefs within the last year. Last February, Consentino was dismissed by selectmen for “cause.”
He was replaced by Sgt. Patrick Caggiano, who served as acting chief until Dec. 19. Caggiano retired from the department after selectmen opted to conduct an open search for a permanent chief.
Since Caggiano retired, Rockingham County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Al Brackett has served as interim chief. Brackett has said he is not interested in the permanent position.
Innes said selectmen will not alter their search based on the petition.
“We are going to proceed through this process as if we are going to hire a full-time police chief,” he said.
Voters turned down proposals to change the position to full time in 2000 and 2001.
“That was a different day and time,” Innes said. “We had a part-time chief that was beloved in town. He wouldn’t have been eligible to become a full-time chief. It was based on a popularity contest. The articles were supported primarily by people in town who liked the chief who didn’t want to see him go.”
Innes said a full-time working chief is vital.
“The quality of individual for a part-time job is not going to be the same for a full-time chief who is responsible for community policing,” Innes said. “ We live on the border near cities like Haverhill, Methuen and Lawrence. Those are great cities, but there’s more trouble there and that’s creeping north. I’m prepared for that trouble coming to town. This person needs to be able to understand threats.”
Innes said he received 45 resumes and has handed them over to the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police. The association will narrow the candidate pool to around six names, before selectmen, a professional board and a citizen board review the candidates.