Lieutenant, sergeant interview for police chief position

By Tanner Harding | Sep 15, 2017
Photo by: Tanner Harding Sgt. Richard Nighelli shakes hands with the selectmen.

Leadership. Respect. Community. Public service.

These are some of the traits the Marion Board of Selectmen asked Lt. John Garcia and Sgt. Richard Nighelli about on Thursday afternoon.

In May, Marion police chief Lincoln Miller announced he would retire at the end of the year. Before looking elsewhere for a replacement, the selectmen decided to open the job up in-house to any officers with the rank of sergeant or above. Four officers fit the criteria, but only Garcia and Nighelli applied.

Garcia has been a police officer for 33 years, 31 of which he has spent in Marion. He was promoted to sergeant in 2000 and lieutenant in 2004. Throughout his years with the department, Garcia has founded and led the search and rescue team, as well as led the charge to get the department accredited.

“We’re one of just five accredited departments in Plymouth County,” Garcia said. “It’s a tremendous amount of work. It’s quite an accomplishment for the town and department.”

Nighelli has been a police officer for 15 years, and a sergeant for the last 11. He’s a member of the Southeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council and is on its SWAT team.

“I’m the operations commander, the second in command,” Nighelli said. “We’ve trained with elite forces from all over the country…including SEAL Team Six. I was on the ground in Watertown in Boston after the marathon bombings.”

When asked about programs he’d focus on within the department and what he foresaw his first six months as chief looking like, Garcia said he would get more involved with the community and change up the responsibilities of the officers.

“The first thing to address would be the re-distribution of responsibilities in the department. I’d bring some of the junior command staff up to speed,” Garcia said. “In addition…I’m a firm believer of being involved in the community. We used to do things like bicycle rodeos and the firearm safety class…With budget constraints some of those met the chopping block, but I would like to be more involved in the community.”

Nighelli said that he would take the first six months to orient himself to the job and get a feel for how everything is working.

“I’d bring in members of the department and see what’s going well and what’s not,” Nighelli said. “I’d make sure everything is running as efficiently as possible.”

Selectmen also asked both applicants about their relationships with the elderly and children in town.

“With search and rescue, I dealt with [the elderly] quite a bit. I had specialized training for Alzheimer’s and I’m an instructor in that area,” Garcia said. “I’ve been involved with the Council on Aging and go to their meetings and their Memory Café program.”

Nighelli suggested having weekly coffee meetings with the chief at the Council on Aging would be a way to familiarize the older population with the department.

“They have different problems, so just getting out there and meeting them is important,” he said.

As far as children go, Garcia thinks it’s important that kids feel like they can trust police officers, and that it would be a good idea for officers to spend more time in Sippican School eating lunch and getting to know the kids, though he doesn’t think there’s a need for a full-time officer at the school.

“We don’t want the only time students to see a police officer in the school is when there’s a problem,” Garcia said. “We want them to be familiar. When they see police officers in the schools we want them to give high fives, not think there’s a problem.”

Nighelli similarly said that children need to be able to trust officers, but he does think there should be an officer full-time at Sippican School.

“We spend so much money on our schools and children, so why not have someone there to talk about the effects of drugs and alcohol,” he said. “Kids need to see officers and feel comfortable talking to them.”

Garcia and Nighelli were both given “homework” assignments, due on Monday, Sept. 18. The Board of Selectmen will make a decision on the next step in the process in mid-October.

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