Dickinson appointed acting police captain

WESTFIELD- Detective Lt. Stephan Dickinson was appointed acting captain April 13 by the Police Commission following the retirement of Cap. Michael A. McCabe. 

The 28-year veteran of the Westfield Police Department will officially take the role within weeks. Police Chief Lawrence P. Valliere said Tuesday that Dickinson and any other candidates for the position will need to take the Civil Service Exam in September. Once grades from the exam are released a month later, the Police Commission will permanently appoint a captain. 

Dickinson was one of two candidates for the position, the other being Lt. Eric Hall. Each candidate answered a series of interview questions from the members of the Police Commission before they sought the advice of Valliere. The commission then voted unanimously to appoint Dickinson. 

Dickinson worked with Valliere in the detective bureau. In his interview, he pointed to his own initiative in working with Valliere back then, and again with him while he is police chief. 

“More recently, as chief he set forth his goals of making a more professional workplace here at the police department with a limited budget. I jumped in to give him a hand,” said Dickinson. 

When deliberating after the interview, Valliere, Capt. Jerome Pitoniak, and the three commissioners each cited Dickinson’s seniority over Hall as their main reason for choosing Dickinson. 

Dickinson has been with the WPD for 28 years, while Hall has been with the WPD for 24 years. Dickinson also has more years as a senior officer than Hall. Otherwise, they all said, they believed Hall would be fit for the position as well. 

Dickinson, responding to a question from Police Commissioner Richard A. Sypek, described a Crime Free Neighborhood initiative he established years ago. He explained that he organized a group of landlords and arranged regular meetings at which he met with property owners and brought in guest speakers to educate them about tenant law and how to work with tenants who cause problems. He said the crime rates in the downtown area fell during the 10 years the program was active.

Over the course of the interviews, both Hall and Dickinson were asked about the state of policing in Westfield and the country at large in 2021, and what challenges they think Westfield police may face in the future. 

Dickinson said that Westfield police may feel the pressure from the recently passed Act Relative to Justice, Equity and Accountability in Law Enforcement in the Commonwealth, often known as the Police Reform Bill. 

He addressed recent trends where police departments across the U.S. are seeing lower numbers of recruits, and higher numbers of officers leaving their careers early. 

He said one method the WPD should use to maintain an acceptable rate of new recruits is to work with criminal justice students at Westfield State University. Criminal justice is the largest major at Westfield State by student population. Dickinson pointed out he used to work with Westfield State students when he was in the Community Police Unit.

“We had interns constantly working with us and riding along with us,” said Dickinson, “That would be a great resource that we really don’t touch anymore.”

When Pitoniak was giving his thoughts following the interviews, he said that Dickinson’s seniority and his problem solving skills put him just above Hall in his eyes, but that Hall still may have a future as a captain.

“Steve is the present, but Eric is the future,” said Pitoniak, “He will be the next person in line, I think.”

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