It’s been a revolving door at the Edgartown police chief’s office since Paul Condlin left in 2010 after 15 years in the top post. His successor, Tony Bettencourt, abruptly retired in early 2015, then Jack Collins was appointed by selectmen as temporary chief, then Patrolman David Rossi was sworn in as chief in May 2015, until his recent sudden retirement due to a heart attack on Nov. 17, leading to the appointment of Lieutenant Chris Dolby as acting chief. Lt. Dolby has publicly stated he is not interested in the chief’s position at this time.
To find a new chief and create long-term stability, the town has engaged the services of Tewksbury-based Integrity Testing, founded in 2012 by retired Tewksbury Police Chief Alfred P. Donovan and retired North Andover/Wareham Police Chief Richard Stanley.
“The assessment group is coming on Jan. 8 to do a public forum so people have an idea of how that works,” selectman Arthur Smadbeck said in a phone conversation with The Times. “After we have advertised the position and have all the applications, they’ll cut down the number of applicants. At some point, we will have a committee that will look at what they’ve cut down, and then hopefully there will be three to five candidates who will be interviewed by the selectmen after everything is whittled down.”
Mr. Smadbeck said there are no changes in the current job description.
“It’s probably going to be the job description as before,” he said. “At some point we will address that; it hasn’t been changed in a long time. It probably should be updated, but not this go-round.”
Mr. Smadbeck said that Chief Rossi was hired from within because he had a skill set that the town was looking for. He credits Chief Rossi with the department becoming accredited by the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission earlier this year.
“Unfortunately, he had a heart attack, and we’re still not exactly where we want to be,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “What we need is some guidance on how to get to the next level. We felt this was a good way to do it.”
Locals lobby for local chief
Two weeks ago, Edgartown resident Michelle Oteri began a petition campaign to show support for Edgartown Police Sergeant Jonathan Searle to be the next chief, which she intends to present to the board of selectmen.
The petition, digitally posted at change.org and circulated in paper form, has garnered almost 900 signatures.
Sgt. Searle joined the department in January 1986. His father, George, was Edgartown police chief for 14 years.
“Jon is the best man for the job; this is not about being against someone,” Ms. Oteri told The Times. “There are five sergeants in the department, and now we’re looking to an outside agency. It’s dumbfounding. Why do we have sergeants in place if we don’t feel like they’re good enough?”
Ms. Oteri said she was encouraged by the show of support for Sgt. Searle. “It’s not about just Edgartown voters. He’s been here his whole life, he knows a lot of people on this Island. Some of the comments are from people he was in the military police with. They have some amazing things to say about him.”
Ms. Oteri said the paper petitions were at several local merchants, but she declined to give specifics.
“People have told me they’re afraid to sign it because of the clique that runs this town,” she said. “It’s worse than high school. It’s shocking how decisions are made here.”
Mr. Smadbeck said the petition would not sway the decision process.
“This isn’t going to be a popularity contest,” he said. “If it were, we’d put it to a vote. It’s not going to be like that.”
Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden expressed confidence in the selection process, and in Sgt. Searle’s abilities. “I’m sure the town is going to be very thorough with the process, as they should be,” he said. “Jon is a seasoned veteran of the Edgartown Police Department, he’s an Island name, and it seems like he’s got a lot of support in town. If you’re qualified and you’re a local candidate, I personally would lean in that direction. There’s no place like Martha’s Vineyard, and I think a chief needs to understand the local dynamics here. Of course, the final decision is with the selectmen; that’s entirely up to them.”
“Local knowledge is always important,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “We’ve got tons of local knowledge in our police force. What we’re looking for is specific modernized police knowledge. Bringing our police force into accreditation was a huge step. But this isn’t 1980 any more. We have a lot of modern issues that we didn’t have to deal with 30 years ago.”