Adams Interviews Final Police Chief CandidateBy Andy McKeever
11:15PM / Wednesday, August 14, 2013
The Board of Selectmen asked Sgt. Michael Bennett questions for just short of an hour on Wednesday as they get closer to hiring a new police chief.
ADAMS, Mass. — Ever since Michael Bennett got a taste of being a police chief, he has been trying to get back in position — but on a permanent basis.
Bennett is the third and last finalist for the Adams chief position and spent Wednesday interviewing with the Board of Selectmen. Bennett, Adams Police Sgt. Richard Tarsa and Scott Heagney, resident agent-in-charge for the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm's Rochester, N.Y. office are all vying to fill the position opened by Donald Poirot's retirement. Tarsa and Heagney both interviewed on Saturday.
Now a Templeton Police Department sergeant, Bennett started his career in 1994 with the Hubbardston force. With only a month remaining of his academy training, voters rejected a grant that would have funded his position. Bennett took a job with Templeton, where he has been since.
He worked his way up through detective, school resource officer to sergeant. In 2008, both the Templeton chief and the senior sergeant were injured and Bennett took over as acting chief.
"Since then I've been taking every course that I can to become chief," he said.
It was in one of those courses that he adopted his policing philosophy of "doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons."
"Doing things the right way, isn't always the right thing," he said, and used an example of rather than charging two siblings who get in a fight with assault, to use discretion and give a warning.
Templeton is a small town with a population approaching 8,000 people — similar to Adams — so Bennett says he understands the issues. During his 19 years, he said he has gained a reputation of being fair. Meanwhile, he has been active in coaching youth sports and becoming involved in the community.
"We encourage our officers, if they have a family in the schools, to go to the events while on duty," he told the Selectmen.
That builds a strong relationship with the town's youth and community members, he said. Building a relationship with the youth is particularly important to him because of his time as a school resource officer. Bennett has and continues to go on field trips with school groups and has earned their trust. Proudly, he said one of the students he mentored through school is now his following in his footsteps as Templeton's school resource officer.
He said he wouldn't promise that he'd fully fund a school officer if hired as the Adams chief, but he would "strongly advocate" for it.
Bennett also boasts turning moral around within his department, an ability a police chief needs. In 2003, his department faced a 28 percent funding cut, which brought morale to an all-time low, he said. He, as a higher-ranking officer, helped bring the officers together.
"You have to have a positive attitude," he said, adding that the entire staff goes to baseball games and barbecues together. "We have a great group of guys."
Also coming from a small-town department, Bennett is supportive of sharing resources not only with other departments — he asked about the town's relationship with the Cheshire Police — but among town departments. Bennett said the Templeton Police Department covers other towns when they are tied up, and vice-versa.
"Being a small town, the only way you can maximize your resources is if everybody is on board," he said. He later said, "Cooperation with other town departments is how you get through some of the shortfalls."
Meanwhile, small towns are also known to have very active rumor mills and when asked about squelching rumors, Bennett said he would "address everything from the get-go."
When asked about how he would handle officer misconduct, he said he would handle the investigation in-house if minor but if the misconduct was of a more serious nature, the best option is to have an outside entity do it. He also said he supports neighborhood crime watches, will work with business to address their needs and will police in anyway the townspeople want.
"You need to listen to what the town is telling you. They'll tell you what they want," Bennett said.
All three finalists have been interviewed by the Board of Selectmen after a search committee narrowed down the candidates from 20. Selectman Chairman John Duval said the board will announce its decision next Wednesday at the board's regular meeting.