Tisbury selectmen took the first step toward changing the Tisbury police department this week, a department labeled dysfunctional at best by a report released from an outside agency. Released Feb. 27 after four months of research, the report made 11 recommendations for changes in the department, all of which were unanimously approved by the board Tuesday evening.
Conducted by occasional Island resident Robert Wasserman, an expert in the field of law enforcement and public safety, the study found deep divisions between management and officers on the force, and frayed communication at various levels of the department and with previous boards of selectmen.
"We're moving forward step by step with these recommendations and we intend to implement them," said selectman Tristan Israel after the meeting. "We're hopeful and are looking for the cooperation of everyone in the community, the police department and others to back this and back the effort so we can develop a better atmosphere and a more community-based police department."
Mr. Wasserman's solution to the problems he found is an influx of outside sources into a department plagued by past internal conflicts. This includes less obtrusive measures like scheduling weekly police-selectmen meetings to improve once sour relations between the two, and giving officers more flexibility along the lines of shift rotation and emergency time off in the busy summer months.
But more aggressive measures were also taken to ensure that developments inside the department are more public than before. For one year, a monitor will meet with the management staff of the force to eliminate unresolved issues cited in a side agreement to the police labor contract, then report to selectmen.
The side agreement was another suggestion of Mr. Wasserman, who was offered the monitor position but declined. He recommended Brent Larrabee, Framingham's chief of police, and Kathleen O'Toole, a Cambridge resident.
The agreement, a kind of amendment to the police labor contract, documents unresolved issues within the department cited by all members of the force. Town administrator Dennis Luttrell recommended the labor council review the agreement prior to implementation. Currently the agreement is under review by the town attorney.
Moving outside sources into all levels of the department was also key to unlocking problems within the force, Mr. Wasserman said. A new lieutenant will be hired, but applicants must come from outside the Tisbury police department, ensuring the new second in command will enter the position free of the past experiences reported by veteran officers and management that contributed to internal problems.
But the soon-to-be-implemented recommendations not only make changes on the force's staff, but give the board and community a say in how those changes should be made. New policy and procedure manuals will be developed under the guidance of the new monitor and a new testing procedure for the sergeant and lieutenant positions is being developed by an outside personnel professional at an estimated cost of $4,500. A new "oral board," consisting of all available Island police chiefs, including Mr. McCarthy, will conduct question and answer sessions for the second round of testing.
The approved recommendations shuffle personnel already in the department and leave the force with some options selectmen hope will ease tension and improve performance. The new sergeant will assume responsibility for patrol supervision, and the existing sergeant will assume responsibility for administration. Both will attend management and supervision schools. The cost for classes was not released, but Mr. Luttrell reported the costs should be covered by the existing line item in the department.
A committee of citizens will also share concerns about policing strategies in monthly meetings with the chief. An advertisement for the committee appears in today's Gazette. Following the advice of Mr. Wasserman, Mr. Luttrell recommended to selectmen that the seven-member committee be comprised of a high school senior, minority representative from the NAACP, senior citizen, local business owner, at large member, a female member, and himself. The newly hired monitor will attend meetings as a resource person.
The monitor will also work with police to find alternate shift schedules, giving all officers rotating access to weekends off, and shifts other than the midnight shift.
"The mood of the department is positive, upbeat," Mr. Luttrell reported after reading through a five-page plan which quoted from Mr. Wasserman's recommendations and contained the town administrator's observations from meetings with police, along with adjustments made to the original suggestions.
"I will seek their input and guidance as we move forward," he said. "They all recognize there\'s a need to move ahead and put the past behind them, and are welcoming the changes that the recommendations will bear out."
Mr. McCarthy was not in attendance Monday night, and when asked later, he would not speak for the mood of the entire department. He had little to say about the upcoming changes, though his few words were enthusiastic.
"Lets get it done," he said. "I think there\'s been enough putzing around, quite frankly, and it's time to move forward. If this is the direction we're heading, let\'s get behind it and start pushing."