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New chief   in town

Greenfield hires Haigh from Orange

Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh

Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh

GREENFIELD — Mayor William Martin has hired Orange Police Chief Robert H. Haigh Jr., who began his career in law enforcement as a patrolman in Greenfield in 1999, as Greenfield’s new permanent Civil Service police chief.

As long as Orange selectmen vote on Wednesday to let him out of his contract with that town, he will begin his new job as Greenfield’s full-time permanent police chief in mid November.

“It’s a sad, sad day for us,” said Orange Town Administrator Diana M. Schindler, who said she doesn’t believe selectmen will block Haigh’s decision to leave. “I’m so excited and happy for Rob.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Haigh, 38. “I love the Town of Orange and the people here, but I’m also thrilled about the opportunity I’ve been given in Greenfield.”

Haigh said he was approached by the mayor, who is allowed under Civil Service to recruit Civil Service chiefs from other towns.

“I didn’t imagine myself in this position,” said Haigh. “This wasn’t on my radar.”

Haigh said he really enjoyed working in Greenfield more than a decade ago, but left for personal reasons.

Haigh, who grew up in Orange and graduated from Ralph C. Mahar Regional School, said he wasn’t ready to leave Orange at that time and was offered a job on its police force.

In 2002, Haigh said he began as a school reserve officer in Orange and later became a detective, a sergeant, an officer in charge, and finally chief in May 2012.

Haigh said over the years he remained in contact with many of the officers he worked with in Greenfield and has many friends in Greenfield.

“I always appreciated Greenfield,” he said. “I’m a member of the Greenfield Country Club and have many friends there. I never lost touch.”

Haigh said he will be leaving a department of 11, including himself, to join and lead a department three times that size. Orange has eight patrolmen, two sergeants and Haigh, who serves as a patrolling chief.

According to Greenfield police, the department currently has 18 patrol officers, 11 supervisors and a half-dozen or more reserve officers.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s one that I look forward to,” he said.

Haigh said he won’t be patrolling Greenfield, but plans to “get out into the community” so people know him.

He currently lives in Orange with his wife and said at this time he has no plans to move from Orange.

Haigh said he has “all kinds of thoughts” about what he’d like to do when he takes his place as Greenfield’s police chief, but doesn’t want to share them until he has had time to meet his new staff, get reacquainted with Greenfield and think more about those ideas.

“I want to find out what is and has been going on, learn the ins and outs of the department, and get a feel for what it’s like to work in a city with a mayoral form of government,” said Haigh. “Then I’ll have a better idea of what I want to do.”

Haigh said he is grateful to Martin for giving him the opportunity.

“I didn’t think I’d get such an opportunity so early in my career,” he said.

Schindler said Haigh is a “very focused” police chief and a “consummate professional.”

“But, he’s very approachable,” she said.

Martin said he has signed a contract with Haigh and is just waiting for the Orange selectmen to release him.

According to Civil Service rules, the Orange board also has to formally approve Haigh’s lateral move from Orange to Greenfield.

“This is a great opportunity, not just for Rob, but for Greenfield,” said Schindler, who has lived in Greenfield her entire life. “He develops a strong professional relationship with other town leaders and with the community.”

Schindler said Haigh has “shined” for the Town of Orange since he was hired as police chief more than a year ago.

“He worked through instability and provided stability once again,” she said. “He’s great at managing to keep things going well and when he says he’ll do something, he does it. He’s very transparent.”

Haigh will be leaving a town of just under 8,000 residents to lead a police department in a town of about 18,000 residents.

Martin said he expects Haigh to be sworn in on Nov. 15.

“Chief Haigh will be Greenfield’s first Civil Service permanent chief since 2011,” said Martin. “The department is going to benefit from the leadership, level of competence, professionalism and skill set he will bring to the position.”

Greenfield’s department

The mayor tried to take the town’s police chief position out of Civil Service a couple of times over the past two years, but met with a lot of resistance from police, town councilors, and most recently, the town’s Public Safety Commission, which said it wanted to revisit the idea. Originally, the commission had recommended taking the position out, but said it was rethinking things.

At a recent Town Council subcommittee meeting, five of the town’s 13 councilors voted to recommend that the full council reject the mayor’s request to ask the state to take the position out of Civil Service. Councilors tabled the idea a year ago, when it was first presented to them.

Martin had said many times over the past two years that he wanted a permanent chief so that the department would have some stability. Part of his argument to take the position out of Civil Service was that the town could move more quickly in hiring a chief, and could draw from a larger pool, if the position was removed.

The Civil Service exam is given once a year and it can take up to eight months for Civil Service to supply a town in need of a chief with a list of prospects, so Martin said the town was looking at another year to 18 months before the town had a permanent chief.

This year, one or more Greenfield police officers took the Civil Service chief exam but did not pass. It is not known who or how many took it.

That meant that Greenfield would have had to wait until at least next fall before it could hire a Civil Service chief — the exam is given in May — and it was not guaranteed that anyone would pass the difficult exam then, so the town would have been looking at two to three years before getting a permanent chief.

Police woes

When former Police Chief David Guilbault retired, giving just a week’s notice and citing health issues as the reason in September 2011, Martin appointed former Greenfield Police Lt. Gary Magnan as acting chief.

By May of the following year, Magnan had given less than a week’s notice that he too was retiring, but he did not give a reason.

The mayor then hired Richard Marchese as acting chief. He was a former Longmeadow police chief who had been working for the town as a consultant to study the police department.

Marchese had been reviewing all aspects of service delivery by the department and was assessing its policies, structure and operations. He had agreed that the chief’s position should be taken out of Civil Service.

Just weeks after Marchese accepted the temporary positions, he announced he was leaving, and Greenfield Police Det. Lt. Joseph Burge became the town’s provisional police chief. He has held the position ever since.

“It’s time for some stability,” said Martin. “Chief Burge has done a great job, but it’s time.”

He said Burge will go back to his position as lieutenant and some of the other Greenfield officers who moved up in rank temporarily will go back to their permanent positions when Haigh takes his place on the force.

About Haigh

Haigh graduated from Western New England College with a bachelor’s of science degree in criminal justice.

He received the Mike Fritz Community Builder Award and Met Life Foundation Community Police Partnership Award in 2012, and has served in the past as Greenfield High School’s junior varsity boys’ basketball coach and Ralph C. Mahar Regional School’s junior varsity boys’ soccer coach and varsity girls’ basketball coach.

“This is Greenfield’s gain and our loss,” said Orange Selectman David Ames. “I think he’s a great police chief and we’re going to be sorry to see him go.”

Ames said he understands Haigh’s desire to take the job in Greenfield. He said the Board of Selectmen will discuss the issue and vote on Haigh’s release on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Fisher Hill School.

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