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Northfield has new acting police chief

Recorder/Paul Franz
Robert Leighton Northfield Chief of Police

Recorder/Paul Franz Robert Leighton Northfield Chief of Police

NORTHFIELD — The town’s new acting police chief will have a year to get used to the job and see if it’s a fit.

Robert Leighton entered last week’s Selectboard meeting as staff sergeant, and left as the department’s new acting chief. His one-year contract went into effect Jan. 16.

“I see law enforcement in Northfield as more than just a job; it’s part of my life,” said Leighton, 45. “When bad things happen to people in town, I take it personally because I live here. It drives me, a little bit more, to get resolution for people, and help them find justice.”

Leighton has been with the department for 25 years, and has lived in Northfield since 1988.

“It makes my job easier, having lived here for so long, and knowing people in town and how they’re connected,” said Leighton. “I’m also fortunate to have a very good group of people who work here; they’re very dedicated.”

He said his most rewarding moment came after the 2005 arson of an East Street house. A family’s house was burned down two days before Christmas, but Leighton was able to bring them closure.

“Through some contacts at the high school, and through other investigations, I was able to develop suspects and make an arrest,” said Leighton. The case culminated in the conviction of a local teenager.

Town officials hope the year will be plenty of time for Leighton to learn the job, and decide if he’d like to be Northfield’s permanent police chief.

“If he decides the permanent chief’s position is not something he’d like to apply for, I hope he would tell us as soon as he knows, so the board can start the search process,” said Town Administrator Tom Hutcheson.

The Selectboard has considered promoting from within the department, forming a search committee, or hiring an outside consultant to look for a new chief. The board has not yet decided which route to take.

Leighton steps into the shoes of former Chief Leonard Crossman Jr., who left Jan. 10.

“Chief Crossman was certainly top-shelf,” said Leighton. “He did a lot for the department. He was a good chief and leader, and he will be missed by all of the officers.”

Leighton will be paid $68,806.25 for the year, including a Quinn Bill education bonus of 10 percent, or $6,255.11, for his associate’s degree in criminal justice.

Crossman was making $76,468.39, including a 25 percent Quinn Bill bonus for his master’s degree.

The former chief said he’s confident in Leighton’s abilities, know-how, and familiarity with the town, and thinks he’d make a fine chief.

Crossman, 33, left the department at the end of his first three-year contract, due to physical problems. Two ankle surgeries within a year had left him indefinitely unable to perform the physical aspects of a “working chief’s” job.

He has offered his help to Leighton during the transition.

“I’m grateful that he’s offered his continuing support and help, even now that he’s left the department, said Leighton. “It’s still going to be a challenge, but he’s made it much easier for me.”

It wasn’t always easy for Crossman. The police department has long been the subject of scrutiny from Selectboard members past and present, as well as a handful of residents.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that things will get better,” said Leighton. “I’m going to try my best, give it a shot, and hope that things get better and the department can continue to move forward.”

He said he hopes to carry on the momentum built by his predecessor.

“I’d like to continue down the same direction Chief Crossman took the department,” he said. Leighton said Crossman built strong relationships between the community and the department, something important to small-town police work. He said Crossman also streamlined the department by better organizing it.

Leighton has his work cut out for him. His first case as acting chief is last week’s armed robbery of the Notch restaurant on Main Street. While he investigates that incident with other departments, he’s also learning the ropes of being chief — billing, budgeting, and scheduling shifts.

Leighton said Patrolman Scott Minckler has taken on many of the sergeant’s duties, and Tuesday, the acting chief asked the Selectboard to promote Minckler to acting sergeant. They approved the temporary promotion, which will expire at the end of Leighton’s year as acting chief.

“Rob has certainly hit the ground running,” said Hutcheson.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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