Selectmen to confirm appointment of Chaput as acting Dracut police chief
Jun 08, 2020 05:43PM
By Lisa Redmond
Deputy Police Chief Stephen Chaput
DRACUT – The Board of Selectmen are expected to confirm on
Tuesday the appointment of Deputy Police Chief Stephen Chaput as acting police
chief after Chief Peter Bartlett went on injured reserve on the same night the
board delayed renewing Barlett’s contract.
The May 27 vote to delay the contract came after the police unions voted “no confidence” in the town’s top cop. Shortly after the vote, Barlett notified Town Manager Ann Vandal he was going out on injured leave under Chapter 111F which allows police, firefighters and corrections officers to collect their salaries without withholding taken out while they recuperate.
Bartlett’s three-year contract, which expired in April, provides him an annual salary of $170,000.
It was later reported by The Sun, that Barlett’s injury involved slipping on black ice while refueling his police cruiser and injuring his shoulder, elbow, hit and knee. The shoulder now needs surgery, The Sun reported. In a statement sent to The Sun, Chaput states the unions will support Chaput as acting chief.
At the board’s May 27 meeting, Selectman Tony Archinski, a retired Dracut police lieutenant and has a long history as a union representative, voted to delay Bartlett’s contract renewal calling the no confidence vote “the elephant in the room.’’ He stated that in light of the unions’ complaints with Barlett, his contract and pay raise should be put on hold until it the issues are “fully vetted.’’
In a letter sent to the selectmen, Marty Conway, representing Dracut Police Unions (NEPBA Locals 4a and 4Bb) explains the union held a no confidence in Barlett’s ability to lead the police department. The vote was “overwhelming’’ with 89% of the membership having no confidence in Bartlett.
“This action wasn’t taken lightly and came only after a significant amount of reflection and consideration,’’ according to the letter.
The letter explains that almost immediately after the vote and a letter sent to Vandal detailing the unions’ concerns, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and attention was focused on the health and safety of the town, the state and the country.
The unions, the letter states, was trying not to release the results of the vote to the public so that Vandal could investigate the union’s concerns. But the unions’ claim there was no investigation.
At a selectmen’s meeting in October 2019, retiring Dracut Police Officer Wren Maddox-Faria accepted a citation from the board, but she did not go quietly into retirement.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight issues within our department. Many people in our community may not realize this, but the vast majority of the police department works in a climate so negative that it impacts every aspect of their lives. Department morale is at an all-time low,’’ she told the board.
She added that members of the police department have been” fighting behind closed doors for a long time now…They should not have to come to work every day in an environment of intimidation, retribution or micromanagement. It is never, ever okay to sacrifice police and public safety for the sake of optics.’’
In Bartlett’s March 16 response to the no-confidence letter he writes that the unions’ letter “demands my immediate resignation and that will not happen. Their assertions, claims, opinions and assessments of my conduct, integrity, and professional abilities are nothing more than the union’s leadership scraping the bottom of the civility barrel in an attempt to embarrass, intimidate and harass me. Their hypocrisy and personal attacks are sickening.’’
Bartlett then quoted the unions’ letter that states, “there will most certainly be retaliation, be it overt or subtle.’’ Barlett wrote, “The inclusion of this claim is nothing more than a self-serving pre-emptive protective measure on behalf of officers who are currently investigation for police misconduct.’’
He added, “During my tenure as chief of the Dracut Police Department (since 2017), I have had the unfortunate task of having to direct internal investigations into police misconduct that has resulted in multiple disciplinary actions taken against officers. These investigations, based on evidence and facts are public records and have created feelings of distain, resentment and resistance from certain officers and the collective union leadership. The issuance of this letter from the police unions, which is fraught with inaccuracies, personal attacks and misrepresentations is a prime example of self-preservation. Bottom line is they do not want any documentation of misconduct or minor corrections.’’
In his 34 year in law enforcement, Bartlett wrote that he has “never encountered such a caustic subculture that is determined to drag its own membership down…This divisive subculture within this department has existed long before my arrival. Unfortunately, it survives and continues to fuel negativity. They have used the same denigrating tactics against past chiefs and administrations.
“This smear campaign will not bully me into turning a blind eye when it comes to police integrity issues. I stand committed to establishing a culture of accountability, professionalism and transparency…The department’s long history of strife, negativity and internal conflict must change. I remain committed to working towards that goal with every police employee who wants to be part of making this agency a great place to work.’’
Conflicts within the Dracut Police Department are noting new. Two years before Bartlett was hired as chief, a 2015 report by Municipal Resources Inc. states that a “toxic mix of fear and intimidation’’ pervades the police department. A lack of leadership at the top has lead to “abysmal morale and a police force that cannot adapt to the needs of the public.