HAVERHILL — The three candidates vying for the top job at the Haverhill Police Department had an opportunity to chat with members of the public Friday before their final interviews in a bid to succeed retired Chief Alan DeNaro.

The small gathering at City Hall allowed Haverhill police Deputy Chief Stephen Doherty, Capt. Robert Pistone and Lawrence police Capt. Maurice Aguiler to individually offer a public statement to members of the press and residents who wished to attend, as Mayor James Fiorentini looked on.

Also attending the session were New Hampshire-based Municipal Resources Inc. President Alan Gould, who was hired to help recruit candidates and guide the city’s search, and former Hampton, New Hampshire police Chief William Wrenn, a Haverhill native, who will also be assisting in the final interview process.

“I’m looking for what I think is the best person to lead this police department, especially during this time. It’s a tough job and these three here best reflect what we’re looking for,” Wrenn said following the 45-minute impromptu public meeting that was arranged late Thursday by the mayor’s office. “This session was important because I was definitely watching their mannerisms and how they responded to questions. That’s definitely going to factor into my impression of who the final candidate should be.”

The next Police Department leader will take over for interim Chief Anthony Haugh, who retired from his role as deputy chief in January after 33 years’ service. Haugh stepped in to oversee the department for a period of seven weeks when DeNaro retired early due to health reasons.

Lawrence’s executive officer Aguiler spoke first, while Pistone and Doherty were outside the room and could not hear his responses. In his remarks, Aguiler, 53, explained that his role as Chief Roy Vasque’s right hand — captain by rank, executive officer by assignment — allowed him to create several first of its kind divisions within the Police Department, including a domestic violence unit with a specialized high risk response team.

“I have been forged by fire. I have done the things that many read about and some go to school for,” said Aguiler, adding that he oversaw the department’s command elements for the 2018 Columbia Gas disaster and the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

The job of chief is one Aguiler says he’s ready for.

“To me, being Haverhill’s chief of police represents an opportunity to develop the department into an organization committed to the values of professionalism, service and equity for all members of this rich and diverse community,” Aguiler said in an interview with The Eagle-Tribune.

According to Pistone, 51, his “deep roots” as a city native drive his “fervent desire” to continue to give back to the community he calls home.

“People say there has never been a more difficult time to be a police officer. However, I think there has never been a better opportunity to be a police officer in Haverhill,” Pistone said in an interview with The Eagle-Tribune. "It would be my privilege to be able to give back to my city by ensuring the Haverhill Police Department does its part in guaranteeing the people of Haverhill live in a safe community, in a climate of respect in which the dignity and rights of all citizens are valued."

Pistone said one of the things he was most proud of is his work in response to a 2019 incident at the Consentino Middle School in which, he later clarified, “some children were scared because they thought they were going to be deported based on something that was said.”

After speaking with all families involved "to let them know they were welcome in Haverhill," Pistone designated two Latino officers to serve as liaisons and reach out to local groups and residents proactively to “see what they need and how we can help.”

Transparency was a key issue raised by all three candidates.

“There’s no need to keep things behind closed doors,” Pistone said. “If we had a monthly meeting with people from the community, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. You want to have people involved with our policies and recruitment.”

Aguiler also liked the idea of regular community meetings, and said he supported an expanded foot patrol and exploring the idea of neighborhood substations in response to a resident's question about community policing.

Doherty, 48, called transparency “vital” and communication “the best crime fighting we can use.”

Sworn in as deputy chief in May, Doherty noted on his resume the work he has done to implement the department’s gang member identification database, which identifies gang members in an effort to minimize violence in the city. He also started an employee excellence award program, which recognizes patrol officers on a quarterly basis to improve officer morale.

Doherty told residents about the pride he takes in the department’s school resource officer program, which places officers in schools to teach children “that it’s OK to trust and respect” police, he said.

“The best way to do that is interact with kids in non-enforcement settings,” Doherty said. “That way, they know they can trust us. Everything begins with a conversation and those conversations turn into meaningful relationships with the community. That’s the best crime prevention we can use.”

Following the public meet and greet, each candidate went into a final interview with Fiorentini, Wrenn and Gould, who will collaborate and come to a final decision.

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