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August 13. 2013 8:01PM

Milford's police chief keeps focus on community


Milford Police Chief Michael Viola has made it through his first year and is enjoying his tenure as head of the department. (NANCY BEAN FOSTER PHOTO)

MILFORD — With his first year on the job behind him, Police Chief Michael Viola is looking toward the future, with building strong connections within the community his main priority.

Viola, who came to Milford last summer from the Fort Myers Police Department in Florida, said his first year wasn’t without its challenges.

“My first week here, we had the Lorinda White case,” said Viola.

White, 52, disappeared from her home on August 5, 2012, causing her family to file a missing person’s report with the police. Over the course of the next several days, extensive searches were conducted in the woods in and around Milford by both police and volunteers. But on August 10, White’s body was found in a large utility box on the side of one of the school district’s trucks. White had apparently crawled into the box and perished in the heat.

Viola said there were two almost back-to-back incidents of men being killed by falling trees, and then there was the carjacking by Mari Chapman, which turned out to be a hoax.

But in between the big stories that hit the news, there have been numerous drug arrests, said Viola.

“I would say that drugs are our biggest problem in our area,” said Viola. “We’re trying to be more proactive about drug-related activity.”

The chief said he’s also trying to continue building relationships with town officials, other departments, and most importantly, the community. There are three active Neighborhood Watch groups in town, and the department just held its first Citizens Police Academy organized by Sgt. Matthew Fiffield.

“It was a great success,” said Viola, and the program helped forge bonds between residents and police that are important in fighting crime. “One of the nice things about being in Milford is that I can have a closer working relationship with the community. I like that community atmosphere.”

Viola said he puts a heavy emphasis on training. After attending a training program at the police academy, Viola sent Capt. Stephen Toom to the FBI Academy and Capt. Chris Nervik to leadership school in Vermont.

“I want our department to be professional in everything we do, and the more training we have, the better,” he said.

For Ellen Works, who serves as Viola’s administrative assistant just as she had for former Chief Frederick Douglas who retired last year, the transition has been a smooth one.

“Both of the chiefs have a lot of the same basic outlooks on life,” she said. “They just approach them in different ways.”

Viola said his family has settled in nicely in New Hampshire, and though working in Milford is a lot different from working in a bigger city like Fort Myers, many of the challenges of enforcing the laws and keeping the community safe are the same no matter where he is. Fortunately, he’s had a “very knowledgeable staff who have accepted me and worked with me.”

nfoster@newstote.com


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