As the long-serving police chief of Great Barrington, Massachusetts prepares to step down, the town is forming a committee to select his replacement.
William Walsh, 64, will retire Christmas Eve after almost 40 years heading the town of 7,000’s police department and its staff of 17 full-time officers.
Selectboard member Leigh Davis praised his service, and tells WAMC that choosing his successor is a huge moment for the community.
“With this commitment comes responsibility to the town, and what we’re doing as a selectboard and with the town manager’s guidance is seeking community members to serve on the Police Chief Recruitment Committee," she said. "And we’re in the process of seeking approximately five to seven community members that will be part of this committee to help us review applications and resumes and conduct the initial round of interviews.”
Ultimately, the committee will recommend three finalists to town manager Mark Pruhenski in late fall.
“The new chief will have to have their eyes wide open – he or she – because there are some people in town and on the selectboard who want to look at reducing the funding for the police force," said Selectboard chair Steve Bannon. "Actually, probably taking some of the funding and moving it to other areas. But overall, no decisions have been made.”
Efforts to defund the department at the town meeting were unsuccessful.
“We recognize the importance of having community partnership and having a certain level of accountability from the police department which we want to make sure that it is continuing, as it has been, and that the committee feels that they have a say and have a seat at the table,” said Davis.
She said the search for a new chief must be equitable and seek out diverse candidates.
“We want to make sure that we’re casting the widest possible net, and that really it’s someone who represents Great Barrington and what the values of Great Barrington are," Davis told WAMC. "So we want someone that represents the diversity and represents what our values are and where we want to go as a town. So that’s extremely important. And we want to hear from this person and see what they can bring to our community that possibly we are lacking. So just someone that has good insight into what’s needed in this rural town and can put us in a direction moving forward that just enhances this wonderful town that we have.”
Town resident and W.E.B. Du Bois Legacy Committee member Gwendolyn VanSant says the new chief must continue efforts toward equity and inclusion begun during Chief Walsh’s tenure.
“I think it’s really important in Great Barrington local government to think about our Trust Policy that we signed a few years ago," she told WAMC. "And in there we had talked about created an advisory council to support the police, and I think that’s a crucial role to get back finishing development of. Because I think whoever is the next police chief is going to have to take us into- How do we work together? What does it look like to have police that are working very different in community? Because I think that’s what the national call is – that we all figure out how to take care of our community, and partnership with the police department. And possibly in lieu of a lot of the activity that they did before.”
Great Barrington community members interested in joining the Police Chief Recruitment Committee should contact the Town Manager’s office by August 31st.