NOTE: This is the un-edited version of my weekly article. Due to space considerations, the article that appeared in the Portsmouth Herald had to be trimmed.
Over the next few months, the City of Portsmouth will have some very important choices to make. Selecting a new police chief should be paramount amongst all other decisions. Recent events within the Portsmouth Police Department have temporarily tarnished both the police department and the city they serve. The incredible men and women that serve on the Portsmouth Police Department are deserving of a chief that will lead the force into a new era of “community, compassion, and commitment.”
This past week former Portsmouth Police Officer John Conner received the prestigious Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Award. Conner received the award for his courageous public stance regarding Portsmouth Police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin and the possible undue influence that Goodwin may have had over a member of the public Goodwin was sworn to protect. Conner was vital at bringing to light the circumstances surrounding Goodwin’s disputed $2.7 million inheritance from the estate of Ms. Geraldine Webber. Many believe Goodwin’s actions were unethical and a violation of his oath. To financially gain for what can be fairly described as an inappropriate relationship goes against everything that police officers represent. Whether Goodwin’s actions were illegal is of no consequence. As a former police officer, I can tell you that Goodwin’s actions were unethical, and sadly his brothers and sisters in blue have been unfairly tainted by his actions.
The first thing I want to be clear about is that the people of Portsmouth should be very proud of their police force, and especially the actions of Officer Conner. The rank-and-file have served with honor and distinction, and most handled the Goodwin matter consistent with the highest standards of public service. Many supported Conner’s efforts, finding themselves at odds with some other members of the community and the Portsmouth Police force, including command officers. The reluctance by some at commend-level rightly calls into question the leadership of the Portsmouth Police Department.
In this day and age, it is hard enough to be a police officer. Over the past year, we have seen an unprecedented level of hostility directed at police officers. Contrary to what some may want to believe, the profession has not earned the excessive scorn it is being subjected to, but cases such as the Goodwin matter erode the trust between honest, hard-working cops and the citizens they have pledged to protect, and in some cases have placed themselves in harm’s way to fulfill that commitment.
In choosing the next chief, I would like to make some sincere recommendations. My opinion alone will matter little, but I hope to encourage an open and frank selection process. First, no chief should be considered until the new city council and police commission are sworn in. The people of Portsmouth elected a new generation of representatives, and many voters had the Goodwin case fresh in their minds when they cast their ballots.
Next, consider hiring a consultant with a history of strong public service and of impeccable character. I had the honor of serving with one of the finest police chiefs in the nation, former Dover Police Chief Charles Reynolds (http://tinyurl.com/chiefreynolds). Chief Reynolds’ accomplishments and key resume points are too numerous to list here. However, his experience is exactly what is needed in Portsmouth. There was no finer leader I have ever served with. Chief Reynolds is a person of strong moral character, respected by the men and women that served under him. He helped to lead not only the Dover Police Department into the modern era of policing but helped to lead New Hampshire law enforcement to a stronger understanding of community policing and adapting tough standards and procedures. He led the way in creating a professional, selfless, and ethical police force that was the envy of many police forces across the country. His commitment to ensuring that the Dover Police Department was one of the first in the nation to not only meet, but surpass the rigorous certification criteria mandated by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, and was later emulated by many other departments.
Lastly, it is clear that the next police chief must come from outside of the current command structure, but also must be someone familiar with the unique characteristics of the Portsmouth Police Department. The next Portsmouth Police Chief must have a proven record of leadership, the respect of the law enforcement community, and a history of fighting corruption. Former State of NH Director of Enforcement and Licensing Eddie Edwards is just such as person. Edwards had a distinguished career in the US Navy before becoming a NH Bureau of Liquor Enforcement Investigator. Edwards rose through the ranks, and became a vital part of reforming and establishing high ethical standards within the NH Enforcement and Licensing department. Edwards briefly served as the Police Chief of South Hampton, and his pedigree is beyond reproach—Career Profile by Keene Sentinel Newspaper, Appointed by the Attorney General to Governor’s Crime Commission, NH Legislative Study Commission on Street Gangs, 2012 Spirit of America Award, 2012 Patriot Citizen Award, 2013 Governor Maggie Hassan Commendation, 2013 Outstanding Service in the Field of Highway Safety, Chairman of NH Disproportionate Minority Contact Committee, served on the NH Legislative Study on DWI, Governor Appointment to the Federal Advisory on Juvenile Justice, 2008 Top Forty Leaders in NH under Forty. Edwards has the skills and the integrity to immediately step into the role of Portsmouth City Police Chief.
I have not talked to either Reynolds or Edwards regarding this article, and by no means am I suggesting that they are the only ones that should be considered. However, both men set a high bar and are clearly capable of helping to restore confidence to the Portsmouth Police Department, both for the citizens and the brave offers deserving of strong, ethical leadership.