After months of attempting to keep private the results of a community survey regarding the selection of Nantucket’s new chief of police, the town on Wednesday released the written responses to the survey.
The release was prompted by a public records request filed by the Current after the town initially declined to share the survey results in early July. That request was denied by the town, but a subsequent appeal by the Current resulted in a determination by the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Public Records Division ordering the survey results to be released.
The town in late August released tabulated results - but not full responses - from the survey, prompting the Current to file a second public records request leading to this week’s release of the written response.
The results of this survey are important not only because they will help inform the decision of selecting Nantucket’s first new chief of police in nearly 20 years, but also to determine if the town is listening to the community and valuing the feedback it said it wanted.
The written responses also provide a window into the community’s concerns regarding public safety, the police department, some of the island’s simmering controversies, and the changing demographics of Nantucket.
The responses released by the town did not include the names of those who had written them, and some comments were redacted including those that included “information regarding potential candidates for the chief of police position which search remains ongoing, current employees’ personnel information, and/or personal, reputational or familial matters,” according to a message from the town’s public records access officer Maureen Coleman.
Several themes jumped out from the responses, including numerous comments about how the new police chief should respond to the growing diversity of the island community.
The island’s public schools are now majority-minority, and many who responded to the survey said Nantucket’s new police chief will need to adapt their department to that reality.
“Our increasingly diverse population & how NPD can make non-white residents feel safe and included,” one respondent stated to the question regarding a challenge the new chief will need to address.
Others stressed that the department’s officers should reflect that growing diversity.
“The police department needs to look like the community in some way,” one person wrote. “We need more black (Jamaican) police staff, as well as Eastern European and South and Central Americans.”
Another respondent added: “The new chief should be someone who understands how multi-faceted Nantucket is from a sociopolitical standpoint (our diversity is not just in race but in economics, political ideology, etc.) and who is not afraid to address the uncomfortable issues head-on but who can also handle them with tact. They should be approachable and welcoming and able to see many sides of our biggest issues.”
The word “drug” or “drugs” was mentioned dozens of times in the survey responses received by the town, and substance abuse was another theme that was clearly on the minds of those who participated.
“The drug problem is huge and this is a priority,” one person wrote. Another called it an “epidemic.”
Others focused on the department’s staffing issues and stressed that the department should focus on housing and hiring local candidates as much as possible to stem the trend of young officers leaving the Nantucket Police Department after brief stints to start their careers in law enforcement.
“The current turnover of our new patrol officers has created a gaping hole in the dept.,” one person wrote. “Once the current administrative tier retires, which appears to be soon, filling those positions and then the positions left open from any internal promotions will be a challenge considering the skeleton staff the dept. currently works with. It seems the dept. that is being left behind is a fragile deck of cards. Once the dept. and its staff can get the support/staff it needs, I feel it will provide those officers more opportunity to be involved in the community and build up a stronger relationship.”
Nantucket’s current police chief Bill Pittman is set to retire in November after nearly 20 years on the job. The town’s five-member police chief search group and consulting firm Public Safety Consultants Inc. trimmed down the pool of candidates for the chief position from more than 40 initial applicants to five finalists. Two candidates recently dropped out due to “personal reasons,” according to town manager Libby Gibson, leaving three individuals who will participate in an assessment center that will be held on-island in October. The town expects to name its new police chief by mid-October.
At least one local candidate, former Massachusetts State Police Lt. Jack Moran, was not granted an interview and was told he is no longer among the candidates being considered.