EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 30, 2014

Acting chief reviews Atkinson Department

Brackett may decide to apply for the permanent Atkinson position

By Alex Lippa

---- — ATKINSON — After a month on the job, acting police Chief Al Brackett met with selectmen on Monday night to discuss his first impressions of the department.

Brackett had several suggestions for selectmen, including a major legal concern.

“People have access to our building that shouldn’t,” Brackett said. “We have a responsibility to protect the privacy information of suspects and witnesses. When non-police personnel are in the building, it’s difficult to control that.”

The Elder Services Department has shared the same building as the police department for years. Former police Chief Philip Consentino used to lead both departments.

Town Administrator Bill Innes said Elder Services soon will be moved out of the building.

“It will be moved to the community center,” Innes said. “They should be there within the next two or three weeks. Most of our programs are run out of the community center, that’s the logical place that it should reside.”

Brackett said the police station was not designed to host two departments.

“There needed to be some way to physically separate them,” Brackett said.

Rockingham County Sheriff Michael Downing asked Brackett to step in and serve Atkinson after former acting Chief Patrick Caggiano retired. Brackett is Downing’s chief deputy.

Brackett also suggested to selectmen the department needs more established leadership.

“There needs to be someone in command if the chief’s not present,” he said. “Some days, it can be overwhelming and we don’t have that supervisory assistant that you need. That’s especially important with the decision to go to a part-time chief.”

He cited an independent review done by Municipal Resources Inc. in 2011, which called for two sergeants to serve under the chief.

“One would have responsibilities over patrol, and the other would have both patrol and investigation responsibilities,” Brackett said.

Selectmen on Monday decided to keep the position part time after originally recommending the position be full time.

Brackett, 62, originally said he wasn’t interested in the permanent position, but yesterday said he isn’t ruling it out.

“I only want to work part time,” he said. “It’s something I have to think about.”

Despite the selectmen’s decision, Brackett said he recommends the town have a full-time chief.

“I think that the chief is a CEO of the organization,” he said. “He just can’t go home at the end of the day and just say I’ve done my 25 or 32 hours. He needs to be able to respond if there’s a major crime or a problem with an officer.”

During his brief time in Atkinson, Brackett said, he has been impressed with what the town has to offer.

“There’s a lot of good, young people here at the agency,” he said. “I like working here and the residents have been very receptive to me.”

Other changes which Brackett recommended included the use of stun guns and switching to the Rockingham County Sheriff’s dispatch after hours. The department currently uses Plaistow for dispatching.

“There are some dead spots in Plaistow,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure that they know there’s an alternative.”

Selectman William Baldwin said he agreed with most of Brackett’s comments, but disagreed about changing the dispatch. Baldwin is a lieutenant with the Plaistow police department. He used to be a member of the Atkinson force.

“I think it’s fine as it is,” he said. “Rockingham County handles many towns. If they’re getting a lot of calls, someone is going to be put on hold.”

Innes said the town would take Brackett’s recommendations under consideration, but most decisions will be made by the new chief.

“(Brackett) brings a world of knowledge and world of experience,” he said. “I think the new chief should pay attention to his recommendations.”

Town officials expect to hire a new chief this spring.