Salem police head into period of transition

TIM JEAN/Staff file photoSalem Police Chief Paul Donovan

SALEM, N.H. — Questions have swirled around the police department for most of this year, culminating with the recent clearing of Chief Paul Donovan's office and his disappearance around the release of a department audit. Only now are answers starting to come to light.

Donovan announced his resignation via his attorney Thursday, making his last day Dec. 31. The decision means the new year will come with new police leadership for the first time in 17 years. 

Ahead of the announcement, Donovan's attorney and colleagues had dodged questions about his absence, repeating that "the chief is still the chief" when asked who was leading Salem police.

The process of naming an interim chief, and eventually a permanent replacement for Donovan, falls on Town Manager Chris Dillon.

In an email Friday, Dillon said he planned to meet with staff promptly to discuss the next steps. 

Donovan's second-in-command, Deputy Chief Rob Morin, has repeatedly emphasized – most recently at a community-organized rally of support for first responders – that 2018 was a tough year for Salem police.

Following the news of his boss' departure, Morin wished the chief the best in the future, and thanked him for 44 years of law enforcement service.

"My focus and concern is getting SPD through these choppy waters," Morin also said in his statement.

Those tumultuous times started with the announcement of an audit to explore department practices and procedures in March. When the findings were released publicly eight months later, Donovan and Morin agreed with some of the suggestions, such as looking into improving time keeping practices and internal investigations. 

Other issues raised in the audit, however, such as criticisms of the department's culture, were not received as well by police or the community. The audit also reported clashes between Donovan and Dillon. 

"I remain exceedingly proud of the men and women at SPD," Morin summarized after the chief's resignation. "I have full faith in their abilities, professionalism and desire to provide their very best every day."

While officials decide what's to come, the town has hired retired Andover Police Chief Brian Pattullo to address concerns spelled out in the audit.

"I believe to my core," Morin said, "That Brian Pattullo is here to help me do just that (guide Salem police through a period of change)."

Chief Donovan has only commented on his impending departure via a prepared statement distributed by his attorney.

"I have decided to submit a letter of resignation which will become effective December 31, 2018," said the written statement released Thursday. "Until then, I will continue to serve the town as Chief. I will also continue to be supportive of the police department thereafter."

As recently as three weeks ago, Donovan publicly mentioned a 2021 retirement.

The audit also cited a deteriorating relationship between Donovan and Dillon and what some described as an adversarial relationship between the police department and town management.