Tisbury Police Chief Daniel Hanavan won’t be renewing his contract when it expires at the end of June, town administrator Jay Grande said.
“I wouldn’t want to sign another three-year contract,” Chief Hanavan told The Times Friday afternoon. “I’m going to look forward to having my first summer off in 42 years.”
Selectmen discussed the topic of the chief’s contract during an executive session two weeks ago, Mr. Grande said.
Selectman Melinda Loberg declined to discuss what was talked about behind closed doors, but her colleague, selectman Tristan Israel, told The Times moving on to a new chief is about looking to implement some of the recommendations in the so-called Hass Report, a report done by Robert Hass, a consultant with Strategic Policy Partners hired by the town for $19,000.
“There’s no major issue with the police chief, let’s make that point,” Mr. Israel said. “Dan has served us long and well. He’s a great guy. Now we have an opportunity to look at the Hass Report and make changes.”
Among the recommendations made by Mr. Hass is improving communication, assigning officers to individual supervisors, addressing training needs, and revamping the discipline process so it relies on correcting behavior instead of punishment.
Both Mr. Grande and Chief Hanavan said a short-term deal is a possibility while the town looks for a replacement. Chief Hanavan said he’ll consider it, but hasn’t committed to it.
Chief Hanavan, who earns $127,379, including a longevity payment, is within percentage points of earning the maximum pension of 80 percent. He has been on the police force for 29 years, and served briefly with the Dukes County Sheriff’s Department and Edgartown Police prior to that, to give him more than 32 years in the pension system.
The chief’s contract will be discussed in open session at the Nov. 7 selectmen’s meeting, Mr. Grande said. He’s hoping the board will agree to let him negotiate a “continuing services” deal with Chief Hanavan, so he will stick around until a replacement is found, which he expects will take some time.
“I don’t think it’s easy to find people,” Mr. Grande said. “Dan is someone I would want to call upon. You hire someone, there’s a probation period, and then they leave because of housing or some other issue. I want to have a tried, true police chief to provide support going forward.”
Salary could be a potential hurdle in that search. Chief Hanavan’s salary puts Tisbury fourth among Vineyard towns, with only the Chilmark and Aquinnah chiefs making less. Edgartown and Oak Bluffs chiefs earn $40,000 to $50,000 more than the Tisbury top cop.
It’s telling that neither Mr. Grande nor Chief Hanavan ever mentioned the word retirement. While the chief is certainly eligible to retire, that doesn’t appear to be what he was intending.
The decision not to offer him a long-term deal comes just months after the chief reportedly recommended firing Officer Mark Santon during a closed disciplinary session, after the 25-year veteran was found to have repeatedly lied during an internal investigation done by an independent private investigator. That probe came after a woman arrested by Officer Santon attempted suicide in the back of his cruiser while the officer was inside the booking room at the Dukes County jailhouse in Edgartown.
Instead of firing the officer, the board of selectmen undercut the chief’s authority and voted to suspend him for five days, despite Officer Santon’s history of discipline and a statewide recommendation that officers caught lying should be terminated.
Last week, after months of fighting to keep it secret, the town released, under orders from State Supervisor of Public Records Rebecca Murray, an unredacted investigation into Officer Santon’s behavior in 2015. In that case, the officer shared a fabricated story about a department supervisor allegedly involved in a domestic dispute that he told others was witnessed by West Tisbury Chief Daniel Rossi and Officer Daniel Gouldrup. Both denied seeing any altercation, according to the investigative report written by Chief Hanavan. Chief Rossi later made a written statement denying he spoke with Officer Santon about an incident at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. Officer Gouldrup declined to write a statement, explaining through Chief Rossi that he didn’t want to get involved in Tisbury’s disciplinary process, the report states. He did corroborate that it was made-up.
Chief Hanavan issued a two-day suspension to Officer Santon — one for spreading the false rumor and the other for tampering with a department laptop.
Chief Hanavan has repeatedly declined to comment on Officer Santon, and instead, says he is ready to move on.
“It would be good not to spend time at night meetings, and enjoy more time with my wife,” the chief told The Times. “I’ve paid my dues. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.”
What’s next for the department?
As Mr. Israel mentioned, in February, Strategic Policy Partnership LLC issued its report on the state of the department and some recommendations moving forward. Last month, the board approved spending $5,000 to continue its work with the consultant on implementing those ideas.
The report, which was based on interviews and a survey of department employees, was critical of the administration’s handling of communication, discipline, and employee retention. There is a “persistent perception that the administration has used the disciplinary system to force employees out of the department,” the report states.
There are flaws in the report, according to a source familiar with how the survey was conducted. The department already embraces “procedural justice,” which the report recommends, according to the source. Hiring and promotional practices employed by the department are based on previous recommendations from the same consulting group, the source said.
Also, the idea that officers are leaving because of discipline is “absurd,” the source said. Two officers who have faced discipline remain, while a highly respected recruit left because of a professional association with a chief in another town, and another took a job in Oak Bluffs where he could earn more money.
One of the key findings of the Hass Report is that selectmen are “too involved in the day-to-day operations” of the department, which is not the first time a consultant has made that assessment.
Strategic Policy Partnership has had an ongoing relationship with the town dating to 2001, when West Tisbury resident Robert Wasserman, a principal in the consulting firm, issued a scathing report on the department, calling it “dysfunctional, at best, with continual tension between police officers and management,” according to The Times archives.
At the time, the department was trying to regroup after a racism scandal that involved Patrolman T.M. Silvia and then-Chief John McCarthy.
In 2009, Mr. Wasserman’s firm gave then-interim Chief Hanavan high marks for his work with the department. “I have little question that Dan can grow into that role, and most members of the department respect him and want him to have the position,” he said at the time.
In that report on the department, Mr. Wasserman called on the board of selectmen not to meddle in the day-to-day operations of the police department. “It’s important that you understand, which I think you now do, that you make policy, you don’t involve yourselves in operational matters in the department unless it involves policy,” Mr. Wasserman told the board of selectmen at the time.
The two previous chiefs — John Cashin and Ted Saulnier — left after being unable to negotiate new deals with the town.
Mr. Israel said that initial report provided the department with a successful way to move away from some of the controversy that plagued it. “We followed that blueprint almost to a T, and that really helped change the dynamic that was going on back then,” he said.
Now, Mr. Israel said he’d like the department to take the next step, being more progressive and offering more training to officers. “It’s gone slower than I’d like,” he said.
Ms. Loberg said she’s not as familiar with the history, but she’s hopeful the department can advance under new leadership. “I’m relatively new to the police activities, but I’m aware of the department’s long and tortured history,” she said. It could be a matter of chemistry, or the culture of the department, that needs to be addressed, Ms. Loberg said.
“We have a lot of good people working there,” she said. “We still need to continue to work on it, though.”
In 2010, before Chief Hanavan ultimately got the permanent job, the town opened talks about a merger with Oak Bluffs police. Anyone who has watched Mr. Israel even for a short period of time knows he’d like to see towns cooperate on all kinds of levels, and public safety departments, with their costly budgets, are no exception. It’s difficult even cooperating across town lines on something as innocuous as library hours, Mr. Israel said.
“We should be looking, and I would support any efforts at that,” he said of a regional approach to police. “It’s a daunting task.”