Editorial: Time for Montague Police to regroup, rebuild 

  • Former Montague Police Chief Charles “Chip” Dodge during his swearing-in ceremony. Dodge resigned this month. RECORDER FILE PHOTO

Monday, March 12, 2018

There are so many viewpoints from which to see the sad story of Charles “Chip” Dodge, Montague’s police chief who essentially was pressured into resigning this month.

But from almost any perspective, circumstances surrounding Dodge’s handling of the Montague Police Department medication drop box, the subsequent investigation by the attorney general’s office and Dodge’s response to that probe, created an impossible situation — for the chief and Select Board.

The trouble for the town and for Dodge first emerged into public view — barely — in June 2016, when state police investigators from the attorney general’s office showed up at Town Hall to look into allegations someone was stealing opioid painkillers from the medication drop box at the police station.

Scrutiny fell on Dodge because he had essentially put himself in charge of handling the prescription drugs and was in recovery for painkiller addiction, which he admitted during the state police probe.

When the investigators presented their concerns to town leaders, Dodge was suspended for three days, and when the investigators left, the Select Board reinstated Dodge with a full-throated endorsement, but no public explanation for the suspension or the investigation.

We assumed that the Select Board learned of the chief’s addiction in the closed-door meeting they had with him at that point, and supported him in his recovery, because the addiction started unwittingly the way it has for so many — with a medicine prescribed by a doctor for pain. When Dodge discovered his dependency, he sought and received medically assisted treatment for the addiction, he told the Greenfield Recorder.

But Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan’s office took a dimmer view of a police chief who was under investigation for possible drug theft. Sullivan suspended the department from the drop box program and its regional anti-crime task force.

Ultimately, the attorney general’s office concluded its probe and found no probable wrongdoing on anyone’s part, but the Montague Police Department was tainted. The DA’s office reinstated the Montague drug drop box but only under strict protocols and the condition that Dodge not handle the drugs. And the area police chiefs, Dodge’s peers who lead the DA’s regional anti-crime task force, refused to work with Montague as long as Dodge was chief. Clearly, trust had been lost, fairly or unfairly.

Later, unions representing patrol officers and sergeants wrote public letters to the Select Board declaring they did not trust their chief because his statements to the attorney general’s office deflected blame for possible stolen drugs on them — basically throwing them under the bus.

The Select Board had a chief who did not have the support of either his troops or his peers, and who was distrusted by many in the community. So, what was the Select Board to do?

The answer seems to have been to hire an experienced private investigator who specializes in internal police investigations.

Alfred P. Donovan’s report to the Select Board concluded that Dodge had violated several department rules and regulations as well as parts of the department’s Law Enforcement Code of Ethics, through his actions around handling of the drug drop box and related matters. The report’s conclusions, however obliquely, were damning.

Donovan stated that credibility, honesty, integrity and competence are “non-negotiable attributes of all law-enforcement personnel,” especially for the position of chief. Donovan concluded by stating the Police Department would continue to have diminished public trust as long as Dodge served as chief.

It was this report that gave the Select Board the leverage needed to force Dodge out.

To its credit, the Montague Select Board has worked very hard to thread the needle of protecting the chief’s privacy through this whole affair while fulfilling its duty to the town, ensuring the integrity and smooth operation of the Police Department. And while we aren’t fans of closed-door meetings, in this case we were glad to see the series of executive sessions over the past several weeks about Dodge’s exit arrangement were followed immediately by public release of the Donovan report, and the termination agreement signed by the town and Dodge.

We wish it had never come to this, but if you believe Donovan’s report, and read Dodge’s own responses to the state police questioning, it had to come to this, for everyone’s sake.