SHIRLEY -- Two years ago, Sgt. Alfreda Cromwell became the town's first female sergeant. Now, she's the acting police chief.
Selectmen appointed Sgt. Cromwell acting Police Chief at their meeting Monday night. Cromwell, who was not present, will fill in while Police Chief J. Gregory Massak is on family medical leave.
Cromwell joined the Shirley Police Department in 2007 and earned her sergeant's badge in 2010 after earning a top score on the exam.
Massak was appointed acting chief when former Police Chief Paul Thibodeau retired several years ago. The selectmen later appointed him full-time police chief, while he also served as a duty officer.
It was a cost-saving move. Once the town's budget pinch eased, the selectmen stated their intent to have Massak work regular hours and a five-day week rather than a rotating schedule, but there were logistical problems and Massak continued to wear both hats.
He has been in law enforcement for over 30 years, joining the Shirley force in 1985. He rose to the rank of lieutenant before taking on the top job.
Citing HIPPA privacy laws, Vice Chairman David Swain said Chief Massak may be on leave "for some time," but he could not elaborate on the circumstances. "We need to appoint an acting chief," he said.
Although Cromwell is not the senior sergeant on the roster, she works the day shift, and that, apparently, was the deciding factor.
Selectman Kendra Dumont agreed that "continuity" was important. "People should stay with the shift they're on," she said.
Last month, Cromwell was at the center of controversy when Massak suspended her without pay for three days and the selectmen overturned that action.
According to a Sept. 18 Sentinel & Enterprise news story, Massak suspended Cromwell for alleged "misconduct at a restaurant in Lunenburg" when she was off duty.
Cromwell filed a grievance with the union, which posited there was "no wrongdoing" and asked that her record be cleared. The chief reportedly denied the request.
The matter ended up before the selectmen. "There was no evidence presented ... to find she was in violation of department rules," Swain said at that time.
Sgt. Cromwell was cleared, reinstated and "made whole" in terms of her suspended pay.
In addition to her duties as a full-time police officer, Cromwell volunteers in Shirley schools, teaching dance and karate at Lura A. White Elementary School and the Ayer-Shirley Middle School. In 2011, she helped institute a Citizen's Police Academy, teaching Shirley residents how to stay safe and assist the police as private citizens.
A 2006 graduate of the Lowell Police Academy, she is also a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. Reserves.
Speaking to the Sentinel reporter, former selectman and retired police chief Enrico Cappucci praised Cromwell. "She's more than capable," he said. "I consider her one of our best officers."
Cappucci was Shirley's police chief when Massak was hired and has served on search committees for the department since. He left the town's top post to become police chief in Duxbury, where he retired several years ago, ending a long career in law enforcement. Cappucci called Cromwell "by far the brightest" he'd ever recommended. "She could be the chief here tomorrow, no doubt," he said.