DRACUT — Dracut Police Chief Peter Bartlett released an unsolicited statement on Monday defending himself against what a representative of the Dracut Police Patrol and Supervisor’s unions says are concerns they raised about management within the department.
In Bartlett’s statement he said, “Leading a complex municipal police agency in the 21st Century is challenging work.”
“Progressive police chiefs recognize the importance of supporting the law-abiding women and men under their command, while also being responsive to the community’s demand for transparency and accountability,” Bartlett stated. “As we challenge the culture of the department and adopt the community values demanded by the public, we should expect union resistance to such change.”
The police chief continued, “Local union votes of no confidence are non-binding actions typically employed in response to progressive police chiefs who are unwavering in their commitment to the public’s trust and who hold their staff fully accountable. This is precisely the case with the Dracut police unions.
“As the department continues to grow into a first-class community policing agency driven by exemplary values and high standards of ethical conduct, there will be internal conflict,” he added.
Bartlett, who took over as Dracut’s chief in 2017 and has served as a police officer for 34 years, concluded he is “no stranger to attempts to silence progressive growth and reform efforts.”
“This community supported generous contracts for both police unions, and they rightfully expect transparency and good conduct for their investment,” Bartlett stated. “Organizational culture does not happen overnight. I remain committed to working toward that goal with every police employee who desires to make the Dracut Police Department live up to its great potential.”
Bartlett also wrote a letter to the citizens of Dracut.
Shortly after Bartlett’s statement was released on Monday, Gary Nolan, who represents the Dracut Police Patrol and Supervisor’s unions, released a statement of his own explaining the police chief’s decision to speak out.
“Last week, an overwhelming majority of Dracut’s police officers privately shared with the town a list of serious concerns regarding the management of the police department,” the statement read.
In the unions’ counter statement, it alleges Bartlett’s previous statement was an attack against the unions.
“While a response deflecting blame onto his employees is not unexpected, it is unfortunate, particularly in a press release issued during a state of public emergency,” the statement says, referencing the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping society.
“We realize that people have their plates full and we do not wish to add to that burden and so we will reserve comment while everyone deals with the ongoing public health crisis,” the statement concludes. “We trust the town government to deal with these internal issues in due course.”
Selectmen Tony Archinski, Joseph DiRocco Jr., Tami Dristiliaris and Jesse Forcier declined to comment on the issue until they are able to review it further. Selectman Alison Hughes was unreachable Tuesday, and Interim Town Manager Ann Vandal also declined to comment.
Archinksi works for the New England Police Benevolent Association, a union that represents Dracut officers.
Relations between the department’s unions and administration have been tumultuous at times in the recent past. In 2011, the union took votes of no-confidence in Police Chief Kevin Richardson, Bartlett’s predecessor, and Deputy Chief David Chartrand.
A 2015 audit found that 75% of employees had no faith in the department’s administration, and in 2016 the union filed two grievances against Chartrand after he wrote and later released to The Sun a letter of reprimand regarding one of the department’s lieutenants. Former Town Manager Jim Duggan sided with the union in relation to the grievances.
Bartlett took the department’s helm in 2017. In July 2019, Chartrand filed a federal lawsuit against Duggan, which is still ongoing, alleging the manager bullied and retaliated against him. Duggan has since resigned and now holds a post in the state’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis