TOWNSEND -- As the fifth person to lead the department in less than two years, newly hired Townsend interim Police Chief Rick Bailey is well aware of the tension that has enveloped the town in recent months.
Bailey, who started working immediately after being hired on Tuesday, told The Sun that he hopes to address some of the "townwide" issues through open communication and relationship-mending.
"I can't fix the entire problem -- I know that," he said. "But what I can do is I can bring stability to the Police Department and make sure that we all in the Police Department, myself as a chief and every member, do our jobs to protect the community, to be involved in the community."
After former Chief Erving Marshall retired in September 2015, the department went through several leadership changes. Two interim chiefs paved the way for Chief Robert Eaton, who was fired on April 21 less than a year after taking over. Town officials alleged that he violated his contract by interfering in and speaking publicly against a town counsel investigation of the department.
Bailey spent most of his career with the Nashua, New Hampshire Police Department. He retired as a captain in 2002, and then served as the chief in Grafton for two years.
After that, he began working with a consulting firm, Public Safety Strategies Group LLC -- the owner of whom he later married -- and traveled around the country to advise departments of various sizes.
He had applied for the Townsend job before Eaton was hired, but he was not selected for an interview. He was also one of three finalists for the chief's position in Dracut last month.
Bailey said he has lived in Townsend "on and off" for about 10 years and wanted to help his town by taking over the department.
"The reason I'm here is twofold: one, because I care about the community and I live here," he said. "(Two), I love law enforcement, it's my entire life, and I want to help it be the best it can be here."
He is on an interim contract running through Oct. 24, 2018, and his salary in fiscal year 2018 will be $125,000. Although his contract only lasts 18 months, Bailey said he would be open to staying on longer if the town is willing to keep him.
"My best-case scenario, this would be my last police job," he said.
Bailey takes over at a time of great political upheaval in town. A municipal investigation into the department, alleging that police employees conducted unauthorized background checks on private civilians, prompted outrage and protests from residents who saw the probe as an anti-police "witch hunt." Eaton posted a statement online slamming the investigation as "strategic assassination" of his department, and was placed on paid administrative leave shortly afterward.
A vocal group of residents submitted petitions seeking the recall of Selectmen Cindy King and Gordon Clark. On March 28, a Special Town Meeting took nonbinding votes on resident-submitted articles suggesting the reinstatement of police employees and termination of Town Administrator James Kreidler and town counsel.
Bailey said he wants to stay removed from the political climate and promote a sense of unity to move past what he called a "caustic" level of discussion.
"Everybody needs to get to a point where they either agree with things that are happening or agree to disagree, but in a positive manner," he said. "A lot of it has not been positive. You know that. And that really hurts a community. This is a community that needs to come back together."
Bailey specifically referenced a comment that was made at the Special Town Meeting.
Gordon Candow, a Townsend resident and Groton police officer, stood up during the meeting and asked residents to consider the "intent" of Townsend police pulling background records on a new hire.
Supporters of the department have argued that the checks -- one of which was done for "no official criminal justice purpose," the state Department of Criminal Justice Information Services later found -- were valid because police employees were concerned about the individual being hired.
"They brought certain information to their boss," Candow said at the meeting. "They followed the chain of command. Their boss brought information to his boss ... In my opinion, their intent was to do the right thing."
Bailey, who also attended the Special Town Meeting, said he disagrees.
"My biggest regret as far back as I can remember is that I did not stand up and rebut that and tell him that we should never do the wrong things for any reason," Bailey said.
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