Newly minted Hudson Police Chief David Stephens says his immediate goals include getting his department fully staffed, boosting morale among the ranks, and introducing an online crime reporting system.
Stephens had been serving as interim chief since Richard Braga retired in June, but selectmen voted last week to give him a two-year contract as the town’s top cop.
“The first thing I want to do is get up to staff,’’ Stephens said, noting that two senior positions in the department are vacant. “That’s going to be the first priority, to get the people below me, to fill the staff positions and backfill all the way through the ranks.’’
Stephens plans to hold a staff meeting next week, when no officers are on vacation, to discuss promotion opportunities within the department and gather input from the rank and file.
“There’s been talk at the selectmen’s meetings about morale,’’ Stephens said. “That’s why I want to hear from my staff; if there’s things that are bothering them, I’d like to have them brought forward so we can deal with them. It’s not real cohesive right now, and that’s where I want to get it.’’
The online crime reporting system, Stephens said, could be used by residents who need to report the loss of items like cellphones for insurance purposes but don’t necessarily need to see an officer in person. “It’s going to save time, free officers up to do other things, instead of having them come back to the station and do a report,’’ he said.
Stephens, a longtime captain on the Hudson force, was initially appointed chief in May by Paul Blazar, the town’s executive assistant. But selectmen declined at the time to approve the appointment.
James Vereault, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said Stephens’ willingness to sign a contract that allows his employment to be terminated without cause was a “game changer’’ that allowed Vereault to support the appointment. The contract calls for Stephens to receive performance reviews every six months, and Blazar has the power to terminate his employment without cause as long as four of the five selectmen approve of the move.
“I think it’s a wonderful time for Dave to make everybody proud,’’ Vereault said. “Ideally . . . I would like him to do so well that all his naysayers turn into sponsors.’’
Selectman Christopher Yates, who initially supported an external search to find a police chief, also said the contract helped to change his position. “I think he has the ability to succeed, if he is able to lead the department in a positive direction,’’ Yates said.
Charles McGourty, the lone selectman to vote against the appointment, said he hopes for the best but that he has “no idea’’ whether Stephens will do a good job. “The way the chairman wrote that up, the employment contract, he’s on a very tight leash,’’ McGourty said. “One little wrong move, and he’s out the door.’’
Joseph Durant, the only selectman who supported Blazar’s initial appointment of Stephens in May, said he was “thrilled.’’
“I always thought he was a most deserving candidate,’’ Durant said. “Promoting from within is a good thing, and I’m really happy that the board reversed course.’’
Stephens said he was grateful for the opportunity to show that he can do the job.
One thing that won’t change, Stephens said, is his willingness to hit the streets with his officers rather than stay behind his desk.
“I think the guys are looking for that, to know that you’ve got their back,’’ Stephens said. “And I’ve got their back. That’s going to continue.’’