Port Town in a Storm

The wild swing of events that has swirled around the Tisbury police department and its chief over the past two weeks has left the town and the Island reeling. Police chief John Cashin, who has a long background in law enforcement, was brought in three years ago to lead a department that has suffered from dysfunction for a very long time. Some of that dysfunction can be tracked to the board of selectmen who have set a poor example in their role as police commissioners. They have been meddlesome when they should be hands off and hands off when they should be supportive and offer guidance. The report by Robert Wasserman that the town selectmen commissioned in 2001 found deep dysfunction in the department underlined by poor leadership on the part of the selectmen.

And amid the abrupt departure of John Cashin last week, this much was clear: the patterns and problems documented in the Wasserman report remain.

Now the Tisbury selectmen are compounding the problems even further by deliberately cloaking events surrounding their troubled police department in secrecy. The terms of departure for Mr. Cashin have not been disclosed. Executive session minutes have not been released, even though the reason for holding the executive session — the termination of Mr. Cashin — has passed. Police are apparently under a gag order, instructed not to speak to the press. And on Tuesday afternoon an open meeting called by the selectmen with members of the department was not open after all — only one selectman attended, Geoghan Coogan, the freshman member of the board who was elected barely a month ago.

And with only one selectman present, the meeting was quickly closed to the press and the public.

What is going on?

The summer season is about to begin and the police department in the Island’s main port town is in a crisis. And instead of acting swiftly, openly and with a steady hand to reassure the public that they have matters under control, the selectmen are acting as if they themselves are out of control.

Amid the chaos and baffling secrecy they have done one sensible thing. Dan Hanavan, a longtime patrolman who is widely respected and was a finalist for chief when Mr. Cashin was hired, has been named acting chief.

With a sexual harassment claim, still in its earliest stages, hanging over the department and their own dismal track record as police commissioners, the selectmen would be wise to cut their losses and forget about a drawn out search process for a new police chief. Instead they should name Mr. Hanavan chief, and this time get out of the way and let him do his job — for the good of the town.