Updated 5/18 at 12:33p
The Oak Bluffs select board voted 3-1 in favor of appointing Edgartown Police Sgt. Jonathan Searle as the town’s new chief of police.
The select board held interviews with the three top remaining candidates for the position on Monday, after narrowing it down from the initial 12 applicants with the assistance of a consultant.
Oak Bluffs Police Lt. Nicholas Curelli and retired NYPD Lt. Arthur Beal were among the three being considered for the position.
“This is probably one of the most important positions we will [appoint],” select board member Jason Balboni said, noting that the decision is not one the board takes lightly. Noting the current issues the Island is experiencing, such as the housing and staffing crises, Balboni highlighted the need for department recruitment and employee retention. “If we can’t hold on to officers we have that are here, we aren’t going to survive” as a town, he said.
Beal served with the 50th precinct in the Bronx, N.Y., for 23 years, and purchased a house in Edgartown with his wife about a decade ago. Although the select board undoubtedly acknowledged Beal’s impressive résumé and experience working in one of the busiest cities in the country, it was quickly decided that the new hire should be a local one, more familiar with the ins and outs of Island life.
Ultimately it was decided that although both Curelli and Searle possess similar characteristics, making both men good options for the position, Searle’s experience and leadership philosophy made for a better fit.
Searle, who has worked avidly with community outreach programs such as Martha’s Vineyard HUB, a program aimed to proactively help those struggling with substance use disorder, stated his passion for serving the community. The son of former Edgartown Police Chief George Searle, Sgt. Searle referred to himself as a “people person,” and said he plans on promoting a sense of transparency and communication in the town. Stating his ability to enforce discipline, Searle also noted that his idea of leadership is a progressive one, using his skills to enhance those who work under him, sharing knowledge and offering guidance while working to lead by example.
Select board member Brian Packish noted that the position is one that will require more of a “hands-on approach” than what the town has seen recently. The new hire, he said, will be a uniformed chief and an active participant in the community.
The process of selecting a new chief is “a great opportunity to rebuild,” said Balboni.
Packish said the new chief ought to be “an agent of change.” Referring to recent departmental issues within the ranks, Packish said there have been “structural deficiencies” and “issues around leadership,” causing the board to lean away from hiring from within the existing department.
Packish noted that in the current OBPD ranks, he has been told by officers that “there is a lack of equity and a very clear fracture within the department, where you have a very favored group,” and asked Curelli how he would plan on managing that inequity, adding that it “speaks to directly to retention.”
Balboni expressed concern regarding a comment made by Curelli that if hired for the position, the goal will be “continuing to do what we do.”
“What I believe we need to do,” said Balboni, “is not continue to do what we’re doing.” He continued, “I think we need a change, we need leadership that’s going to bring that change. I think we have gotten a little off track to where I, and people in the community that I talk to, feel the same way.”
Curelli confirmed “there was a vacuum in the very upper level of the department,” and expressed his intent to create a “new start.”
Curelli’s knowledge of Massachusetts Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) and the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission (MassPAC) garnered him praise by the select board, with the board expressing their hope that he will one day earn the rank of Oak Bluffs police chief. “To me, promoting from within may tip the scale in this matter,” said select board member Barmakian, advocating for Curelli.
Packish said he would typically want to promote from within the department but, he said, “in this case, we have a situation where we have a lieutenant retire, next in line to lieutenant fell into an unfortunate situation.” That was in reference to a gun that went missing within the department that ultimately led to the resignation of Sgt. Michael Marchand.
Packish said hiring Searle would be the “healthiest” decision.
“I think that Lt. Curelli has worked hard to develop his skill sets and to educate himself … to me that’s not a question,” said Packish, adding that the goal is to “position our No. 2 person to be really set up for success.”
After much discussion — and to the frustration of many supporters of Lt. Curelli who were present for the interviews and following deliberations — select board members Brian Packish, Jason Balboni, and Emma Green-Beach voted to authorize the Oak Bluffs town administrator to begin negotiations with Searle. Select board vice chair Gail Barmakian voted in favor of Curelli, with select board chair Ryan Ruley recusing himself from the meeting because he is an Edgartown Police officer.
Citing the need for a change within the department’s ranks, Balboni said appointing Sgt. Searle is “for the best for our department, for the best for our town, for the best of our future.”
Packish called it “one of the longest deliberations I’ve experienced.”
“He’s definitely leaving behind big shoes to fill,” said Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee in a call with The Times. McNamee praised Sgt. Searle for his work with EPD, highlighting Searle’s “forward-thinking” philosophy and passionate service to the community. Sad to see him go, Chief McNamee said he and the rest of the department are confident that Oak Bluffs will be in good hands.
Updated with more details.