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Chief search takes baby steps forward

Date: 9/19/2012

By Carley Dangona

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Mayor Gregory Neffinger announced Sept. 11 that he advised the Public Safety Commission (PSC) to move ahead with the search for a new police chief, a position vacant since March, despite an ongoing investigation of one of the candidates.

"My recommendation is to move ahead as soon as possible, because I feel like we need to move ahead," Neffinger said. "The PSC can discuss the framework of the interviews and establish a timeline [to move the process along]".

William Fennell, chair of the PSC, said, "The idea [of moving forward] is something I think everyone is in favor of. I look forward to collaborating with the other [PSC] members to structure the interview process."

When asked about the investigation of West Springfield Police Capt. Daniel O'Brien, one of three candidates for chief, Neffinger had no information to offer. "It's a real difficult situation — we really need some direction from the U.S. Attorney. They're reluctant to say anything. The process is outside my hands right now. I'm hoping that as we start going through this process it [the investigation] would be resolved."

On Sept. 13, Christine Sterling, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston, stated she "could neither confirm or deny an investigation."

Fennell stressed the importance of scrupulously reviewing the finalists. "Every candidate will be reviewed equally and strictly on merit. We [PSC] will be very thorough — we have to consider that this could be a long appointment for the person selected as chief."

Neffinger stated that "it's a very real possibility" when asked if O'Brien could be selected and then found guilty in the investigation. He added that it's also possible that O'Brien be selected and found innocent. Either way, the selection process must keep going.

A public meeting of the PSC is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 19 at 5:15 p.m. in the town hall.

Candidate and interim chief Ronald Campurciani was unavailable for comment.