HAVERHILL — The Northern Essex Community College/Methuen Police Academy has a new director.
John Scippa, a retired Stratham, New Hampshire, police chief who also served as a law enforcement training specialist, began his new job on Feb. 11.
"During my law enforcement career in New Hampshire, I always considered my time as a training specialist at the New Hampshire Police Academy to have been very rewarding and purposeful," Scippa said. "I consider training police officers to be a privilege and I’m excited to be back in the police-training environment at Northern Essex."
One of his immediate goals is to help transition the training to include a revamped curriculum that will be introduced during the next academy class, which will begin late spring or early summer, he said.
"The state did a lot of work with subject matter experts to make our teaching more efficient," Scippa said. "Two things officers must do is to communicate with people and write reports. We want to deliver those lessons earlier in the program, which will help reinforce foundation skills as recruits move through the academy."
Scippa is also working with area police chiefs to create a path to the academy for students enrolled in NECC's criminal justice programs.
"We want to create opportunities for young people in criminal justice programs to move right into the academy," he said.
Northern Essex operates the academy cooperatively with the Methuen Police Department.
Scippa takes over a program that came under scrutiny last year when the state Ethics Commission fined the man who as then director of the academy $5,000 for selling it clothing and sporting goods off the shelves of a Lowell company where he was a salesman, in violation of state ethics laws. Thomas Fleming resigned 10 days after the commission announced its findings and imposed the fine.
Fleming offered to reimburse the college for $2,952 of the $5,000 in commissions he said he earned on the sales at the company, All Sports Heroes. The college returned the checks, college spokeswoman Ernie Greenslade said.
NECC hired Fleming as a consultant in the fall of 2014 to help establish the police academy at the college's main campus in Haverhill. In August 2015, the college hired Fleming as director of the academy, paying him an annual salary of $65,000 for a 25-hour work week.
After his resignation, NECC announced it was opening its own investigation into other allegations by an academy cadet that Fleming collected tens of thousands of dollars in dues from recruits and kept the cash in his office while providing the recruits with no receipts for the money and no vouchers to show how it was spent. The cadet, Cynthia Martinez, who was treasurer of her class, alleged Fleming spent some of the dues to buy cadets more clothing and equipment at All Sports Heroes.
Haverhill police conducted the investigation for the college and reported finding numerous “accounting inadequacies," but concluded it was impossible to determine if dues were misspent or stolen because years of financial records had gone missing.
Scippa, 57, a member of Londonderry High School's Class of 1980, the school's very first graduating class, was appointed Stratham's chief of police in 2009 and oversaw 12 full-time employees and an operating budget of $1.4 million.
For five years prior to that, he served as lieutenant executive officer for the North Hampton, New Hampshire, police department. From 1998 to 2004, he was a law enforcement training specialist for the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training in Concord.
The Exeter resident earned a bachelor of arts in sociology from the University of New Hampshire and a master of science in law enforcement administration from Western New England University.
Northern Essex has graduated four classes since the police academy's inception in January 2015, according to college officials.
To date, more than 400 recruits have graduated from the academy, serving 52 municipal police departments, eight colleges and universities, the Massachusetts Port Authority, and the Somerville Housing Authority. The largest class of 77 graduated this past September. The next class will graduate in April.
Scippa said he currently has 71 requests for seats in the next class, which doesn't have a start date at this time.
All the graduates complete an intensive 24-week program that includes constitutional law, prevention and intervention, community policing, domestic violence, elder abuse, and victims’ rights, and other topics.
The recruits undergo 900 hours of training, defensive driving, daily physical fitness training, and firearms training. All training takes place on NECC's Haverhill campus, except for firearms training and emergency driving techniques, which are held, at off-campus locations.
Northern Essex manages the academy with guidance from an advisory board that includes police chiefs from Amesbury, Haverhill, Methuen, Lawrence, and North Andover.
"The addition of John Scippa to the academy strengthens an already tremendous partnership between the police chiefs and Northern Essex Community College to provide professional police recruit training in Massachusetts," said Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque. "John brings an incredible amount of experience and expertise in the area of training and I look forward to working with him."
The academy opened in response to a shortage of academies in the area. At that time, Haverhill Police Chief Alan DeNaro said the Merrimack Valley had needed a regional police academy for more than 25 years.
“By partnering with NECC, we are able to move quickly and efficiently to train our new recruits as they embark on their chosen profession,” DeNaro said.
Collaborations between public safety providers and community colleges lead to better-educated first responders, according to Northern Essex President Lane Glenn.
“We can’t eliminate the incidents of violence that have taken place across the country, but better training can help reduce those incidents,” Glenn said.
They can also help provide a safer campus, said Glenn. “Academies provide a very visible police presence and can be comforting and an effective deterrent to crime.”
Glenn said that future goals included adding a credit component to the academies, allowing recruits in the academies to earn college credits and work toward an associate degree.