Search for new chief ramps up

GREENFIELD — As 2016 draws to a close, the Greenfield Police Department is looking toward the announcement of its new leader.

Chief John Jester announced plans to retire in August after having accepted a security management position for Community Health Network.

Jester remains on the city’s payroll until Dec. 30, however, using up vacation and personal days, and has not kept office hours since September. His replacement, who will oversee a department of 42, won’t start work until 2017.

Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell assembled a panel of community members to interview about a dozen applicants. He expects the committee to make a recommendation before the end of year, at which point Fewell will make a hiring recommendation to the Greenfield Board of Public Works and Safety, he said.

Though Jester, who served as chief for eight years and made roughly $72,000 this year, hasn’t been a fixture in his office at the police department for the past three months, he is available to help should an emergency arise, he said, and has made it clear with his new employer he might have to pop in on occasion. He has attended court hearings and various meetings as needed in recent weeks, he said.

Since Jester left, Maj. Derek Towle, the department’s highest ranking officer, has been handling day-to-day decisions for the department, Fewell said.

Jester was not a member of the interview panel, but he said he hopes the new chief will recognize the good work already being done in the department and expand on successful initiatives. He’s particularly proud of the work detectives are doing in the new narcotics investigation program and would like to see the department’s new leader bolster those efforts.

For any law enforcement officer, maintaining a good relationship with the public is paramount, Jester said. He hopes his replacement emphasizes the need to connect with members of the public, continuing programs like Cops-4-Kids, which provides gifts to children in need at Christmas, and the department’s newly created community picnics.

Those same topics are in the fronts of the minds of those serving on the hiring panel, officials said.

The candidates vying for the job have experience in law enforcement and leadership, Fewell said, attributes he’s looking for in Jester’s replacement. Fewell wants a candidate interested in serving as police chief long term, he said.

Former Hancock County Sheriff Nick Gulling said he was eager to step up and help when the mayor called asking that he serve of the panel on interviewers.

Since his retirement from the sheriff’s department, Gulling has participated on similar hiring boards in other areas, including aiding in the searches of 911 directors in Howard and Madison counties; now, he’s pleased to have a chance to help within his own community.

Gulling said he’s looking for a candidate who boasts leadership experience in law enforcement. He’s interested in hearing the potential hires’ opinions on current troubles within the community, like drug abuse and the subsequent crimes it creates, he said.