Should Bridgton’s new police chief have minimum of a bachelor’s degree?

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

What level of education should Bridgton’s next chief of police have and should he or she be required to be a resident of the town?

Those questions were debated at length by the selectmen and Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz Tuesday night, during a discussion on the job description for the new police chief.

Their comments followed a public hearing Dec. 14 regarding the expectations of the community for the position of police chief during which comments from the townspeople were heard.

David Lyons, who six years ago was promoted to chief from within the ranks of the Bridgton Police Department, retired effective the end of November, after six years in that post. Lyons resided in East Fryeburg, less than 10 miles from downtown Bridgton.

Prior to Lyons’ departure, a study paid for by the town and performed by The Public Safety Strategies Group of West Townsend, Massachusetts, stated in its conclusions published in August of this year, “In the future, should the department’s current chief retire or otherwise leave the department, Bridgton would be well served to consider hiring a Chief with considerable management experience.”

Town Manager Berkowitz proposes to add a section to the draft job description that says the new police chief should have “a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or the equivalent as well as advanced educational course studies as well as a demonstrated career of continuing education…”

Selectmen Chairman Art Triglione pointed out that it will be Berkowitz, as town manager, “that ultimately will be the decider on who the next police chief will be.”

Former longtime Bridgton Police patrolman Bernie King said he thinks three things should be required of the new police chief: the “level of education — at least a minimum of an associate’s degree, if not a master’s degree in Business, residency in Bridgton, and a minimum amount of experience as chief — maybe three years — in another municipality.”

King also asked the selectmen if a “psychological evaluation and polygraph test” will be required for the new chief of police, and the board members said they would be.

“I also think being a resident of the town would show the citizens of the town they’re not just an outsider running a town department — they’re involved,” King stated.

Resident Laurie Horne, who is a part-time dispatcher in Bridgton, said, “I agree with Bernie. I think some of the problems we ran into before was we had an ‘old school chief’ (the late Robert Bell) and a ‘new school chief’ (Lyons) and they clashed. Going ahead, we need to have a very well educated person — a chief who is on top of things — someone who wants to work here and will be believable.”

“We’ve made some changes we feel are needed to the police chief’s job description, and I think it takes in just about everything we heard from the public tonight,” Chairman Triglione stated.

Triglione went on to say he thinks “we could start with an associate’s degree (being required), with a minimum of eight years’ supervisory experience in a sergeant’s position or above. He said further that he doesn’t believe anyone should be excluded “if the person has shown a desire to better himself and shown loyalty and stability to the town, they should be considered.”

“I agree,” said Selectman Earl Cash.

Selectman Woody Woodward said he recalls that, when applications were submitted for police chief six years ago, there were six applicants who had earned master’s degrees, three who held bachelor’s degrees and one who had a doctorate degree.

“My thought is we’re looking for someone who has wanted to be on a track for a police executive position.”

Cash suggested the job description could state that a bachelor’s degree “is preferred.”

Woodward said, “It could say we ‘strongly encourage’ (a bachelor’s degree).”

Acting Chief of Police Peter Madura said, “You have to have an associate’s degree, to be a certified police chief in Maine. I’ve got a lot of time invested here. It is imperative, as police chief, to have common sense. You can have all sorts of degrees and not be able to work your way out a paper bag.”

“This is going to be a major change for how we conduct business,” Town Manager Berkowitz said. “And, having gone through two police studies, (requiring) anything less than a bachelor’s degree would be diluting where we want to go in the future.”

‘Pistol loaded’

“I want a person who already has his pistol loaded, not who’s learning how to pack the pistol,” Berkowtiz said further, in pushing for the job description requiring a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. It’s a dead serious matter. Your expectations are leading this forward. We want someone who can bring us into the 21st Century and lead us in law enforcement.”

Selectman Doug Taft, who like King, worked for the Bridgton Police Department for decades, said, “I don’t think putting bare minimums is diluting any position. It’s an opportunity for a person to grow. It’s an opportunity for us to grow.” Taft went on to say that they could require the successful applicant to obtain a bachelor’s degree “in a number of years.”

The town manager stood his ground, in pushing for a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for the new police chief.

“We want someone who can hit the ground running and take the sum of the wisdom that came out of both (police study) reports — a person who can manage, lead, motivate and train,” Berkowitz said.

“I strongly agree with Mitch,” Selectman Woodward said.

“My position on it — Mitch said everything I believe — we have a great opportunity in the town here to build on the existing police force. We have a great police force, and I concur we should be looking for the best person we can get and it should be a bachelor’s degree, coming in. I will eat crow, if we can’t get this kind of applicant. I feel a bachelor’s degree is a minimum requirement. The manager indicates he very strongly supports that, and I think we should put a lot of weight in that.”

“This is a policy statement,” said Berkowitz. “I’d hate to have only three out of five selectmen endorse it.”

“I don’t care to be lectured,” Selectman Cash told Berkowitz. “When you and your search committee don’t get what you want, it’s your fault, not ours. You interview who you think is best…I agree that it is probably the best thing (a bachelor’s degree requirement), but I hate to say no one else can apply.”

“Earl, I’m going to make my best recommendation,” said Berkowitz.

“I know that and appreciate that,” Cash replied.

In the end, it was a split vote — with Woodward, Hoyt and Triglione voting in favor of requiring the town’s next police chief to hold a bachelor’s degree, and Cash and Taft opposed.

The selectmen concurred that the new chief of police should reside within 20 minutes’ travel time from Bridgton.

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