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Stow Selectmen: Police reform and vaccines

With the Selectmen’s meeting running more than three hours on Tuesday, March 9 as the Independent prepared to go to press, last week’s paper covered only the first portion of the meeting. Below, is the remainder of the discussion items.

By Ann Needle

The Stow Police continues to work toward bringing the force and its policies in line with national calls for reform. In the second half of the March 9 Board of Selectmen meeting, Police Chief Michael Sallese discussed his department’s efforts in keeping its work bias-free. Selectmen also endorsed another step in urging the state to bring COVID vaccines to the area.

Police Reform Marches On

Town Administrator Denise Dembkoski told the Board of Selectmen she has been working with Chief Sallese on bringing the Stow Police hiring process in line with the state and national movements toward changes in police reform and training. Many of the changes to the Stow hiring process are aimed at “making sure we have the correct candidates coming in to apply,” she said.

A major move toward recruiting these candidates will be to submit candidate applications and resumes to a hiring committee with names, gender, and other identifying information, outside of qualifications and accomplishments, redacted. “They [the hiring committee] will not know who they’re meeting with until they come in to interview, which is a great step in taking out any stigma or bias,” Dembkoski said. 

The hiring committee will also have citizen representation, noted Dembkoski. In selecting a new patrol officer, the committee will include two Stow residents that are not affiliated with any Town boards or departments, along with the Police dispatcher, detective, and lieutenant, who she said will recommend finalists to her and Sallese. She added that the chosen candidate will then be brought to the Selectmen for confirmation.

 “I absolutely love the idea of ‘blinded resumes,’” said Selectman Megan Birch-McMichael. She also noted that, as the Selectmen representative to the Police chief selection committee – and with no law enforcement background — she felt it was good to have different voices in the chief selection process.

In another major move, Dembkoski announced the Town is opening up officer positions to non-Police Academy-trained candidates. She explained that this should attract more applicants who have not had the finances to attend the Academy, and that the town has the budget to pay for that training, if needed.

Sallese remarked, “I’m really excited about the patrol position,” given his department has received a diverse and large pool of about 31 resumes.

Looking at budgeting for police academy training, Selectman Jim Salvie said he would support a line item in the budget for that expense when needed, “so it’s a little less catch-as-catch-can.”

Select Chair Tom Ryan maintained, “If we’re going to start putting people through the academy, I would be looking to see if they will give us a 5-year commitment, to make sure they’re a good fit.” But, Ryan assured he will keep an open mind.

Dembkoski said she and Sallese are putting together the officer hiring committee and will likely launch the interview process next week.

In a related matter, the Selectmen unanimously approved an updated Stow Police policy on enforcing bias-free policing among its officers. Sallese explained that one of the policy’s many functions will be to hold officers accountable for not following department or state regulations regarding bias-free policing. It also outlines the process for handling any complaints, he added.

Vaccine Push Continues

As COVID vaccines remain in short supply — and often administered a substantial distance from Stow — Selectmen enthusiastically endorsed a letter to the state from the select boards of Nashoba Boards of Health’s 16 member towns, urging it be allowed to set up a regional vaccination site.

Dembkoski noted that the towns’ managers and administrators already sent two letters to the state with the same request and have the backing of local legislators in the efforts, with no response.  

Sharing some statistics, Dembkoski said the governor’s office reported about 13 percent of all residents are fully vaccinated, and only a third of those over age 65 have been inoculated. 

In other town news, Tom Ryan welcomed Joyce Sampson to Stow as the new executive assistant to the Board of Selectmen. She replaces Maureen Trunfio, who resigned to take a job in Framingham.

The Board confirmed David Goguen’s promotion to Acting Police Sergeant. Sallese noted that Goguen has been with the Stow Police for 32 years and will go through the regular application process if he wishes to become permanent sergeant.

Selectmen appointed Rebecca Lynch and Meredith Woods to the Cultural Council.