Northfield police chief announces retirement; Selectboard discusses hiring process


Staff Writer
Published: 6/18/2021 2:41:41 PM

NORTHFIELD — After 34 years of service with the Northfield Police Department, Chief Robert Leighton is retiring, effective July 8.

In response to Leighton’s notice that he intends to retire, the Selectboard, during its meeting this week, voted to hire an acting chief from within the department and establish a search committee to seek candidates for a permanent, full-time chief.

“This is a very important position for the future. We can only hope that we would have as much longevity as we’ve had with the person leaving this position,” said Selectboard Chair Heath Cummings, who also served as a police officer under Leighton. “I think it’s important that going forward we have somebody that’s not going to use the town as a stepping stone, that we have somebody who’s going to be here, that’s dedicated to stay here for a significant amount of time.”

Town Administrator Andrea Llamas noted that most departments hire from within for an acting chief, and sometimes for a permanent chief position, as the familiarity with department policies helps to “keep things smooth and running.” Selectboard member Alexander Meisner asked about the ability to use another police department’s resources on a temporary basis, but Llamas said she was unsure if laws related to police territory and jurisdiction would permit another department’s chief or officer to assume temporary leadership.

“If we don’t have somebody who is experienced enough to be a police chief, I’d rather take somebody who is an experienced officer in another town to assume a supervisory and responsible role rather than somebody who has no experience being in that type of leadership position,” Meisner said.

He said hiring a new police chief is “arguably the most important decision an elected official can make.” Although police chiefs in Massachusetts are generally hired from within their departments, Meisner said that “as a Selectboard member (he) is not in favor of hiring from inside” and “never will be.” Instead, he supports conducting a search for outside candidates.

“It’s very early in the discussion, anything can happen, but this is a huge decision so we really need to — as Heath said — move swiftly through it so we’re not left without a leader for our town for the police force,” Meisner said.

Cummings noted the small size of the Northfield Police Department does not lend itself to a “robust pool” of in-house candidates. Given the importance of the position, he agreed the town should consider a larger pool of candidates.

“In my opinion, as someone who has worked in law enforcement for 18 years in this county, and I worked in this town in this job for this man and with these people, I think one of our best courses of action would potentially be hiring the consultants and doing the search, but consider any applicant from within,” Cummings said. “That way we can weigh multiple applicants. If our top applicant happens to be one from within, then we weigh that against what the larger community would be able to bring in.”

Selectboard member Barbara “Bee” Jacque said she feels it is beneficial to hire an acting chief from within who is familiar with the town, while a permanent chief hired from outside the department would have more time to acclimate to the position and the community.

After further discussion, the Selectboard talked about establishing a search committee. Llamas said the committee could just be the Selectboard, as it is the appointing authority, or it could include other members.

Ultimately, the board voted three to one, with member Mary Bowen absent and Meisner opposed, to appoint an acting chief from within the department.

A second unanimous vote approved creating a search committee to consider candidates for the permanent, full-time chief’s position. The committee will consist of two Selectboard members, two emergency service members, two residents and a third resident who has police experience. If a third resident with police experience cannot be found, a third resident without such experience will be accepted.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-930-4579.

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