Tisbury invests in Chief Habekost

Elevated morale, ‘sound judgement’ and ‘extremely positive’ feedback cited.

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Tisbury's select board has appointed Chris Habekost to a three-year term as police chief. — Courtesy Tisbury Police Department

The Tisbury select board unanimously appointed acting Police Chief Chris Habekost to a three-year term as full-time chief of the Tisbury Police Department. 

Town administrator Jay Grande told the board he was “happy to recommend the promotion of Chris Habekost to police chief.”

Reading somewhat loosely from a prepared statement, Grande said Habekost had “exercised leadership, sound judgment — he’s constructively engaged in the process of making changes department-wide. All of the direction of the police department had been positive under his leadership.” Grande said Habekost enjoys the support of the department, and has the experience and credentials necessary for the job. “I believe he’s uniquely qualified to lead this department,” Grande said.

“I think Chris will be a great chief of police as long as he’s here,” select board member Larry Gomez said. “Thank you, Chief, for what you’ve been doing so far.”

Gomez also said it was a positive that Habekost lives on the Vineyard.

Select board member Roy Cutrer said Habekost’s appointment was “the right move to make right now. I think the department is going in the right direction … I think that’s just the right decision to make. Trying to bring someone in from an off-Island community hasn’t worked well for us in the past.”

Cutrer’s assessment wasn’t off-target. Since 2005, when Tisbury Police Chief Ted Saulnier bowed out in a compensation dispute, the Tisbury Police Department has had a total of three imported police chief tenures, each one fraught. In 2009, alleging slander and internal conspiracies, Tisbury Police Chief John Cashin settled with the town and departed. In July, following multiple federal lawsuits, Tisbury supplanted Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio with Habekost as acting chief. Saloio, who is named in one of those suits, was paid through November, but hasn’t publicly been heard from since the summer. Saloio was sidelined shortly after The Times was provided with records that showed select board chair Jeff Kristal targeted a business owner through a traffic officer. Cashin appears to have never looked back, and has not made public comments since his exodus. However, as an attorney, Saulnier has sued Tisbury over police matters at least twice, on behalf of clients — most recently on behalf of Patty Mark. 

“You know, I think we miss what’s right in front of us, and we look beyond,” select board chair Jeff Kristal said. Kristal said he recalled Habekost saying from the get-go that he would focus on communication and transparency. 

“And he’s absolutely proven that in the last few months,” Kristal said. Kristal noted Habekost is from the Vineyard, and has become a familiar face on Main Street. 

“He’s available for people,” Kristal said. He added the feedback town hall and the board have received about Habekost has been “extremely positive.”

Kristal went on to say, “The morale has increased, and he is uniquely qualified … as Roy and Larry have stated, I think this is a good, positive step — not just for the police department but for the entire town.”

Being police chief in Tisbury has historically been hard even for those who come up through the ranks. Tisbury Police Chief John McCarthy found himself thrown into the crucible of the T.M. Silvia racism scandal. In the wake of the report generated by department consultant Robert Wasseman, McCarthy retired in 2002. Executive session minutes recently obtained by The Times through open meeting law and public records law requests show Tisbury Police Chief Dan Havavan was reluctant to take the job in 2009. Wasserman, who had been hired again by the town, told the board “problem officers” were interfering with Hanavan’s ability to run the department. Hanavan was eventually able to clamp down on those officers, including Officer Scott Ogden. Minutes show Wasserman said of Ogden that Hanavan had “shortened his chain.” Habekost, like Havanan, was tapped by the select board as the right person at the right time, sans an open search for the position. Hanavan retired in 2018 after navigating several scandals without being sunk by any of them, including the disastrous David Thrift case. 

Habekost joined the Tisbury Police Department in 1998, and became a full-time officer in 2004. In 2012, Habekost was named acting sergeant, filling the vacancy left by Sgt. Robert Fiske, who was terminated for his failures in the Thrift case. In 2013, the select board made Habekost’s rank permanent. 

“He finished No. 1 rank in the sergeant’s promotion test, and he has been our acting sergeant for over a year, and has been doing a great job for us,” Chief Hanavan said at the time.

“In my opinion, you carry yourself with a great demeanor, and you’ve been a great asset to the town,” select board member Tristan Israel said at the time.

Based on records reviewed by The Times, on prior reporting, and accounts from former colleagues, Habekost has managed to journey cleanly over time through a department that has consumed several of its older officers in dishonor. He wasn’t implicated in the T.M. Silvia affair, the Kelly Kershaw matters, the Thrift case, Mark Santon’s scandals, or any of the federal lawsuits brought against the department, and there’s no evidence to suggest he should have been. As the second longest serving member of the department, he now leads a force with few faces remaining from when he started, save Officer Ogden, who is the longest serving member. Habekost appears to have avoided being embroiled in the acrimonious union squabbles between the department and town hall that dominated the first 15 years of the millennium. As Det. Charles Duquette made note on Friday, Habekost enjoys the support of the police union. “We are excited about Chief Habekost leading the police department, and look forward to continuing the professional development of the department,” Duquette, who is vice president of the union, texted. “He has a lot of institutional knowledge, and is a familiar face not only within the department, but around town and on the Island.”

Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake congratulated Habekost Friday. In a text to The Times, Blake wrote, “I expect he will continue to serve with professionalism. I encourage him to continue reaching out to fellow chiefs for advice and guidance. I look forward to working together.”

“The island police chiefs tend to work pretty closely together, and we have all come to know Chief Habekost to be a thoughtful professional who only wants the best for both his department and his town,” Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee said. “We warmly welcome him to our group, and we hope he enjoys terrific success leading the Tisbury PD.” 

Following his appointment, Chief Habekost addressed the select board. He said he was “honored and proud” to have served as acting police chief for the past four months. 

“During this time, I have encountered some challenges and accomplished some important goals,” he said. “The departure of the former chief and his secretary was abrupt and unexpected, and there were several critical adjustments that were necessary to maintain command and control of the police department. Working closely and cooperatively with Lt. William Brigham, we’ve rebuilt the command structure of the police department, and provided the stability that was badly needed by all of the staff here. We’ve filled two vacant positions within the department — the administrative assistant and a full-time patrol officer — with two qualified, local candidates. We continued the process initiated by the former chief, and have achieved certification with the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission, thanks mostly to our accreditation manager, Andrew Silvia. We’ve assigned Charles Duquette as our new detective, and given him the tools and authority to perform thorough and complete investigations.”

Habekost noted Duquette’s investigations have led to the arrest of several suspected drug dealers, and were “critical” to protecting the community from the “scourge of drug addiction.”

He said he has enjoyed working cooperatively with other departments in town with the “common goal of more effective government.”

“The most notable of these relationships is with the town administrator Jay Grande. Mr. Grande has shown unwavering support and guidance to not only me but the entire police department. I look forward to continuing to lead the Tisbury Police Department and continuing the achievements and goals, as we have for the past four months, as a team. Thank you, and God bless.”

3 COMMENTS

  1. Well just wave the magic wand and it’s all better for the town of Tisbury…. And just in time for the holidays!!!! Who knew all you had to do was re-shuffle the problem children and do what they say and everything becomes better. Has this new paradigm in leadership addressed the issues of Sgt maximum settlements or Sgt gobble-gait? What has it really done, the answer, nothing yet. But if there was ever a town or police department poised for a negligent retention law suit this is it. Thank goodness we have the GRANDE and Cry-stal to make these wonderful community benefiting decisions. Four chiefs with vast amount s of varied experience couldn’t do it, but, one person propped up by the day/Sherman Union can??? Please…. All I can say is brace, brace, brace because this plane is about to crash!

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