Editorial: How can Montague’s police chief continue?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

It’s hard to see how Montague’s police chief can remain in his job. His bosses, the three members of the Montague Selectboard, have been opaque on the issue, but not so the people who are closest to the town’s police department. They want Chief Charles “Chip” Dodge gone.

Who are they? The rank and file of the department’s two police unions, their dispatchers, the regional anti-crime task force, and former police chief and long-time Montague policeman Ray Zukowski.

They all say they have lost all confidence in Dodge’s ability to lead the department.

It’s hard to know how much a factor the recent revelation that Dodge is in recovery for an addiction to prescription painkillers and was the subject of an attorney general investigation last year is, but it certainly hovers in the background of the discontent, disappointment and disapproval expressed in the weeks since the Recorder reported on Dodge’s addiction problem.

His troops and the former chief have deserted Dodge in large part because they feel he lied to the Attorney General’s investigators about suspected tampering with the station’s prescription drop-box, and threw his rank and file under the bus by suggesting any one of them may have stolen the drugs — drugs that were Dodge’s responsibility to secure.

Although the AG’s Office concluded its probe without charging anyone, Dodge’s remarks to investigators, which were revealed in the Recorder, have shaken confidence in Dodge.

Zukowski worked for the Montague Police Department for 36 years and was chief for six of those years. In his call for Dodge’s resignation, he singled out Dodge’s assertion that many police station master keys had gone missing under his watch, and so any of his officers may have accessed the drop-box drugs.

“To state that he is changing locks and keys because of the conduct of some unknown officers when he is the culpable one calls for his immediate resignation,” Zukowski said in a letter to the town.

While noting he has “empathy for Chief Dodge’s addiction,” Zukowski said, “The members of the department have to have … confidence and respect for the chief of police. That confidence and respect in Chief Dodge is now gone, and I feel it can never be gained back.”

About the same time, the patrolmen and the sergeants unions sent a letter to the Selectboard and town administrator, following a joint meeting on Oct. 19 where members present unanimously voted no-confidence in Dodge.

They essentially called him a liar who has deflected criminal suspicion onto them, and they said he retaliated against some he suspected instigated the AG’s probe.

“... it is the opinion of the unions that the public statements made by the chief are inconsistent with the observations of our membership and, significantly, are neither a truthful nor honest account of the facts as they relate to the handling of the drug box,” the letter said. The letter also disputes Dodge’s statement to investigators that he never came to the station late at night to empty the drug drop box.

The union claims Dodge tried to change the shifts of the patrolmen in retaliation for the investigation after the AG’s detectives came to town in June of 2016.

Meanwhile, the regional anti-crime task force, a cooperative of the area’s larger police departments coordinated through the district attorney’s office that works on major drug cases, has declared it would not restore Montague Police Department to its ranks while Dodge was chief.

District Attorney David Sullivan, who has commended Dodge for his fight against addiction, said the task force’s executive board voted on Oct. 19 to keep Montague out of the regional crime-fighting group, in essence because they can’t trust him.

“Placing a member of the Montague Police Department in the position of answering to both the Montague Police Chief and the leadership of the Task Force, where drug investigations would need to remain confidential from the police chief, is untenable,” the letter said. “This risks eroding the command structure of the Montague Police Department or worse, compromising the safety of those people involved in the dangerous work of drug investigations. This would be an unacceptable risk of the member departments of the Task Force and/or of any assigned officer from the Montague Police Department.”

After all this, the Selectboard placed Dodge on paid administrative leave on Oct. 31. The town plans to conduct an internal investigation while Dodge is on leave, although the selectmen have declined to elaborate on the exact nature of the probe. Prior to this, the board offered Dodge its full support throughout the Attorney General’s office investigation and after the Recorder revealed he was in recovery.

We suspect and hope this new investigation is about finding a way to fix what is clearly a department that has been shattered by the AG’s probe and Dodge’s comments to investigators. We hope this investigation will address the concerns about the town’s police department and its chief — concerns raised by those who work most closely with the chief, who say they no longer trust or respect him.