WEARE — A study to look at privatizing the police department has been shelved as town officials wait for background checks to be completed before naming a new police chief.
Thomas Clow, selectmen chairman, said the town entered into an agreement with Greystone International — a subsidiary of Blackwater Security Consultants — to study the possibility of having the private security firm replace the police department.
The $9,348 study, which was to be conducted by two consultants from Greystone, would have analyzed the department’s operations and developed a plan for restructuring the department through the private security company, according to unsealed minutes of the Sept. 9 selectmen’s meeting. Board member Keith Lacasse brought the idea forward at the meeting, and selectmen John Lawton and James Leary voted with Lacasse in favor of hiring Greystone. Vice-chairman Richard Butt and Clow voted against the proposal.
According to Robert Tanenholt of Greystone International, the company has never run a police department in the United States, but said that privatized police departments are on the horizon.
“It’s something that’s starting to raise its head in towns and cities,” said Tenenholt.
Budgets, unions, and other issues are behind the interest in privatizing departments, Tanenholt said, but “we’ve never done this before.”
In Weare, it was frustration over ongoing controversy at the police department that made Lacasse consider privatization. Though he couldn’t be reached for comment, he offered a public statement at the board meeting on Sept. 23 that spelled out his discontent.
“I have become increasingly frustrated about how time and time again our hands seem to be tied, and the deck seems to be stacked in the favor of officers, even when they misbehave,” Lacasse said in the statement. “I would love to share the details of just a sampling of some of the matters we have had to discuss in non-public session, but they are in fact non-public.”
Lacasse said he sought out the help of other companies in the country that run private police departments for municipalities, but couldn’t find an organization interested in expanding to New Hampshire. Greystone offered to take the challenge on, he said, and the town’s attorney said that such a move was legal.
Clow said that although he shared Lacasse’s concerns about the way things had been handled by the police department in the past, he was not ready to hand over the reins to a private company.
“I thought it was a terrible idea,” said Clow. “There’s more to policing than just having a security force in place. It’s something I was very much against.”
Clow said he went on the company’s website and saw three men in fatigues with rifles, an image that didn’t fit with Weare’s small town ethic. He also said the contract was entered into without the board ever receiving a presentation from Greystone or its representatives.
“We got the information on Friday and voted on it on Monday,” said Clow. “We never got a presentation to get a better idea of who we were dealing with.”
Lacasse reversed his position at the board meeting on Sept. 23, after interviewing three candidates for police chief. The town has been conducting a search to replace Chief Gregory Begin, who retired in May, and is nearing a decision.
“It would be unfair to lead on the good people we are interviewing for a job, while at the same time pursuing a completely different direction for police services, which could result in eliminating that very job we’re hiring them to fill,” said Lacasse, before recommending that the board terminate its agreement with Greystone.
Clow said that Municipal Resources Inc., which has been helping to manage the department since Begin left and conducted the search, is in the process of completing background checks before the new chief can be named. Clow said it could be a couple of weeks, but hopefully less, before the chief is introduced to the town.
In the meantime, a fatal police shooting in town on Aug. 14 that left a suspected heroin dealer dead continues to be investigated by the N.H. Attorney General’s Office. The names of the officers involved with the death have yet to be made public.