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Opinion: Chief Joe Bennett’s Self Review – A Lesson in Arrogance

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Dear Mr. Khumalo and Select Board Members:

Due to the lack of due diligence on the Select Board’s part, we decided to do what they should have done in assessing Chief Bennett’s mid-year self-review. Our assessment appears below.

Preamble and caveat: Put your seat belt on and grab a cocktail; This letter is long. We tried to shorten it, but there just is so much to say about this, and the subject is incredibly important. You Select Board (SB) members cannot perform an adequate mid-year review of Chief Joe Bennett without considering everything we have written below.

The bulk of this letter was written prior to your February 27th SB meeting, your first pass at a mid-year review of the chief. During that meeting it became evident that you possess even more proof of the chief’s failures as a leader and a police officer.

All of you should have combed through the chief’s self-review for weeks before his appointment with you. It is your job to do so, and because you didn’t, we residents now know that we can’t count on you to do your job appropriately.

So let’s take a peek and see what we find.

This is an important position. He’s the Chief of Police, after all. He’s the one person in this town that citizens should know, like, and trust. Our Chief of Police must be honest and forthright. Chief Bennett put it best in the Loudermill hearing: “People expect more of their Police Officers.”

The first thing that will jump out at you is the blatant ambiguity that pervades the chief’s self-review. He doesn’t offer specifics. He uses broad language and vague terms. This can only be because he has served under a SB that him to get away with profound ambiguity and unfulfilled promises.

Time and again, we have seen the SB rally for a resounding pat on the chief’s back when the chief has presented to them his lame mid-year review. Frankly, they behaved that way with everything the chief brought before them, including his baseless request to fire Sgt. Brennan and his equally flimsy request to promote an impotent Lieutenant, Jay Porter, to the position of Deputy Chief. But we digress. Let’s get back to our audit of the chief’s self-review.

Here are some examples of the hollow ambiguity that permeates the chief’s self-review.

GOAL ONE: Community Outreach and Engagement.

Start on page 1 of the review, which is found on page 16 of the Select Board’s agenda PDF for Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. Here you’ll see that the chief’s first goal is “Community Outreach and Engagement.” It’s quite appropriate that he lists “social media” as his first accomplishment in furtherance of that goal. After all, Chief Bennett has been HPD’s social media manager for years now. It’s his thing. This is ironic, given what transpired this past January at his behest and on his watch. While nothing is marked as having been completed, he lists several nebulous items he claims to be work in-progress.

For example, the chief indicates that he has used Facebook “well” to promote open positions. Which positions, exactly? More than 8 jobs have been open for more than two years now. How exactly has the Chief used Facebook “well?” A note to the chief: one must do more than just post the jobs to Facebook.

Next, he mentions that a vendor has been selected to help with the creation of a recruitment video. Which vendor, and is selecting a vendor worth mentioning in a performance review? What of any progress on the task itself?

The chief refers to a “team” that was “offered” training in social media and public records. Who exactly was offered this significant-enough-to-mention-on-a-performance-review social media training? We fail to see the relevance of this task, or its significance.

What does the chief mean when he says that he should be commended for “offering” training to his officers? Does that mean he simply forwarded them an email about “How to Use Google to Find Bad Guys” or “How to Go Undercover on TikTok to Monitor School Bullies”? Maybe. But you can be certain that if the chief had any meaningful specifics to reference, he’d have shared them.

The chief also says that he should be lauded for having HPD staff “active” in certain community-based projects and programs. But again, no specifics. We have no idea who is doing what.

Who is working on the Elmwood School Project? Why, and to what end?

What is the Senior Center Study about? Who’s involved? Why, and for what purpose?

What’s the MetroWest Anti-Bullying Coalition? Who’s working with them, and what have they done?

Who’s involved in the Freedom Team? What have they done, and why is this such a big deal?

What’s the Hopkinton Organizing for Prevention? That’s a weird name. What is organizing for prevention exactly?

Then there’s the Coalition on Disability, which is very important for the HPD to be involved in, but what exactly has the HPD done with this Coalition, and who did what?

The Behavioral Threat Assessment Committee. Again, no specifics are offered. Who from the HPD is involved in that Committee and what have they achieved? How have they contributed to that Committee’s efforts in a positive way? Are we safer because of the HPD liaison’s input?

Lastly, the chief lists the so-called Climate Action Plan, but doesn’t give any specifics. Again, it’s entirely ambiguous. He doesn’t want us to know anything what he does, likely because he does very little.

The chief then continues to list things that appear to be minor and not all indicative of his achievements as a chief. In fact, throughout his self-review, the CHIEF HIGHLIGHTS INNOCUOUS MINOR MATTERS BECAUSE HE APPEARS TO HAVE NO MAJOR MATTERS TO MENTION.

For example, the chief talks about how much he posted about the Fruit Street Bridge reopening. That’s like a teenager bragging about a TikTok Streak.

Then he mentions how HPD staff have hung out at the Senior Center for things like their pizza parties and seasonal events. Why on earth would the Chief mention this on his performance review as an accomplishment? He offers no real explanation.

Of course, it’s fine to mention these things. But they aren’t accomplishments. They’re FILLER, used to stuff the lines of the review where accomplishments belong, and to confuse the public into thinking that he is working. He isn’t.

The Chief of Police isn’t charged solely with bridge-opening Facebook posts and community-building pizza parties. He is supposed to oversee proactive policing. Since when has anyone heard about our HPD doing anything PROACTIVE to find, investigate, and prosecute crimes that are impacting our community? Not since the Select Board, in their infinite wisdom, promoted Joe Bennett to chief.

Task Force work? Reactive. (That is, unless the investigation commences in our town, which it hasn’t.)

House calls? Reactive.

Police details? Reactive.

And while those things are important, local police departments must be proactive in policing their communities, or else word will spread, and the bad guys will choose to do more business in Hopkinton. We, the citizens of Hopkinton, would like to see the HPD do something other than get kitty-cats out of trees, direct traffic, and assist with other towns’ investigations by joining a Task Force.

GOAL TWO: Officer Recruitment.

As stated, since Joe Bennett became chief, the HPD has desperately needed to hire. (As we previously wrote in a prior letter to the SB, surrounding towns like Holliston, Milford, and Westborough are fully-staffed, while Hopkinton – arguably the Town that should be the most attractive place for cops to work in the MetroWest area – remains woefully understaffed.) And yet, it wasn’t until very recently that the chief finally posted a job opening. He claims on page 2 to have received many applicants, but he says nothing of how many were interviewed or how the hiring process was advancing. The SB should have asked him about that.

Then the chief mentions having established an “application metric.” Huh? What’s that? You’ll have to guess, because, once again, it’s Ambiguous Bennett.

Next, Chief Bennett says that he has established “Priority grouping.” What the heck is that? Where are the details? Did it work? We’ll never know. Why not just use plain English when describing “accomplishments”? This is not just for the Select Board to understand, it is for citizens too.

Chief Bennett wants the SB to grade his work without seeing his work.

Let’s scroll down the page to where he mentions the FTO Program. Of course, he doesn’t say what that means, so, having done our homework, we will. FTO stands for “Field Training Officer.” Bennett says he’s going to make a better FTO Program. What he fails to write is that the HPD has had a Field Training Officer Program for a long time now. So why does the chief think he needs a new one? He doesn’t say because it’s embarrassing. During the chief’s tenure at the HPD, FTO trainees have either quit that role or left the HPD altogether. A good supervisor of the chief would have inquired with HPD personnel on why that happened.

Will you claim ignorance of this, SB? Will you say that you didn’t know this was the case? How is it that some of our citizens know this, but you – the people charged with keeping your fingers on the HPD’s pulse – are so incredibly clueless about the toxic work culture created by the chief and his cronies at the HPD? Or did you know and just choose to ignore it?

The chief claims in his glowing self-review that his new FTO program (still “in progress,” of course, because he completes nothing) already has a “new lead.” Great! Who? Is there a person already working on finding and training new FTOs? Why is the chief being so coy? Apparently, you’re not worthy, SB, and neither are we. The chief and the SB have something in common: They both want us residents to shut up and blindly continue to pay his $185K+ salary.

GOAL THREE: Promotion and Professional Development of Command Staff

The chief’s handling of this area has been messy to say the least, and in his self-review he offers lies, ostensibly to cover up his bad behavior.

First, he says that the process for making someone a Sergeant was followed correctly. It was not.

The CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) was, in fact, violated. Per the CBA, the chief could post the Sergeant’s position and give the requisite examination for it only when a Sergeant’s position already had been made available. But the Chief never actually made a Sergeant’s position available. A position is not considered “available” until the job description has been published. For example, today there is only one valid Sergeant’s position open, the one recently vacated by now-fired Tim Brennan. The chief could post that job and then immediately give an examination to fill it (within 60 days).

Instead of following the rules, the chief circumvented the CBA entirely. In December of 2021, likely hoping to retain personnel, the chief announced a Sergeant’s test. But this was putting the cart before the horse, as there were no empty Sergeant’s position to fill. What did the chief do? He unilaterally created two new positions.

One was aptly titled “Special Sergeant” because the chief wanted his special pal, Scott van Raalten, to fill that slot, which van Raalten did.

The other newly created position was a “SRO Sergeant.”

The chief created those two new positions well over a year after he had offered the Sergeant’s exam.

Remember: the exam must be offered on the heels of a sudden vacancy and resulting job posting. But here the chief announced the exam before there ever was any vacancy to fill, and then magically created two new positions.

In policing, CBA violations like these are a big deal and shouldn’t be taken lightly. The chief’s favoritism for people like van Raalten and others have made the HPD an even more pernicious culture.

Shame on you, SB, for not knowing all of this, or worse yet, for knowing about it but doing nothing about it.

At the bottom of the same page, the chief boasts of “providing” his Sergeants with “advanced training” on 15 different subjects, many of which are not even Sergeant-related! For example, one of the subjects that the Chief provided advanced training on is “Executive Leadership and Strategic Planning,” yet, by definition, that subject clearly is the domain of the chief, not a Sergeant. Then the chief lists the subject of “Strategic Communication,” but in policing, any such communication (publicly or privately) should be the responsibility of the command staff (and not that of a sergeant).

And we can’t help but chuckle when reading the very next topic on the chief’s list here; Chief Bennett must have skipped over the “Working Effectively with the Media” training, at least as it pertains to reviewing material prior and authorizing it for online release. Then again, he probably knew full well what he was doing the day he released the confidential unredacted document, and with your help (or at the very least, your laissez-faire attitude), letting it sit online for nearly three days.

As for the chief’s references to things involving HPD labor relations (see, e.g., his claim in Goal #3 that he offered his Sergeants some “advanced training” in “Labor and Management Relations”), we did some research on that too.

We learned important information that you, SB, should already know, seeing that you’re the chief’s supervisor and all. “Labor and Management Relations” occurs between the chief and a department’s union representative, not between the chief and the Sergeants or between the chief and the membership. (As an aside, the HPD’s union representative, Gregg DeBoer, wasn’t even a Sergeant until very recently.)

Turning to the next page, you’ll see the chief bragging about having offered the Sergeants training in a long list of topics. That list suspiciously mirrors similar lists of training offered regularly by the two largest police training organizations in Massachusetts MPTC (the Massachusetts Police Training Council) and NESPIN (the New England State Police Information Network). How, exactly, did the chief “offer” those trainings to his Sergeants? Did the chief simply forward some MPTC or NESPIN emails to the Sergeants about those organizations’ upcoming trainings? Maybe he did; maybe he didn’t. How would we know? It’s a secret, and he’s not telling.

Incidentally, “offering” training is not the same as “completing” training. Why would anybody say in their own performance review that they offered someone training? If your Sergeants completed training, Chief, then say that. These shenanigans wouldn’t last more than a month in the corporate world.

It gets better. The chief then boasts of his “Command Staff” doing certain things. The term “Command Staff” refers only to the positions of Lieutenant, Captain, and Deputy Chief, but there hasn’t been a “Command Staff” since April of 2020, since Jay Porter left. The only “Command Staff” that has been running the HPD for the past four years has been Chief Bennett himself. Thus, when the chief states in his self-review that he gave “Practical Awareness/Skills Training” (whatever that is) in “budgeting, procurement, payroll and procurement” to his “Command Staff,” he is saying he gave this training to himself.

Without a Command Staff in place, how has the HPD run? We now know from the Sergeant’s Letter of No Confidence that they have had to fill the shoes of the missing Command Staff. They shouldn’t have had to do that (especially for a period of years, as has been the case here). The Sergeants are (and should be) the HPD’s first level of mentorship of new patrol officers and should be supervising those patrol officers out on the road and in the community. Instead, due to a lack of leadership from the chief, the Sergeants have been doing the busy administrative work of the Command Staff.

On the last page of the chief’s list of accomplishments, the chief incorrectly and unwisely says that he wants a Sergeant to be the one to both conduct the “Station Rebuild Project” and to pursue the HPD’s accreditation. For the record, those are not a Sergeant’s roles or responsibilities. The chief knows this, but he’s counting on the fact that you do not know this. Don’t be fooled.

Finally, in his last few bullets of so-called “accomplishments” toward Goal #3 (“Promotion and Professional Development of Command Staff”), the chief claims to have had “Constant Communication” (with who, he doesn’t say) in the form of “Monthly Staff Meetings,” but neither confirms a total count of those meetings nor any details or takeaways from those meetings. Is having meetings noteworthy?

In closing, we looked forward to getting into the details of the Chief’s accomplishments after reading his self-review. The chief’s submission is rife with smoke-and-mirrors and bereft of verifiable accomplishments. His self-review might as well be a bunch of blank pages.

Submitted Respectfully,

Gayle & Scott Ober, Hopkinton

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5 COMMENTS

  1. This is the absolute fluffiest performance review I’ve ever seen. This type of ‘review’ is check the box, not actually feedback. A performance review is an opportunity to grow and do better.

    Go back and do it again, Bennett. This isn’t the time to pretend everything is sunshine and rainbows. Hopkinton is going through a tough time and you need to take your job seriously. There are challenges that have appeared and it’s your job as a leader to guide the organization to overcome and grow.

    This is not leadership. This is not taking accountability. This is not professional. If this is how he has run the HPD, we can’t have reform soon enough. I’d rather have a department of Brennan’s than a department who feels this is ever acceptable.

    Tim Brennan took his job seriously and stood his ground, even though he was wrong. I disagree with his conduct. That will not change.

    However!

    I’d rather have a police force who makes calls and then stands by them than this unserious behavior. Tim Brennan acted as a professional and did not play games.

    Bennett and the Select Board need to take this seriously. Bennett needs to apologize and have an actual review. Select Board needs to admonish or transition Bennett out of the role.

    I’ve assumed Bennett has been acting in good faith. If this is his general conduct, I was incredibly wrong.

    • AS
      I’m not really sure of what you are saying. You keep using Tim Brennan’s name. Yet all you did was trash him.

      This chief has lied to you all. He has acted in bad faith. He has broken the law in outing this young lady who was raped by his best friend. Then he fired the victims protector for a policy violation. This chief then didn’t share a letter he received a year ago, where all 6 of his Sergeants questioned his ability to run the Hopkinton police department.

      What else do you people need?
      How can you let this man be in charge of your safety and that of your family.

      He can’t hire, maintain, train, execute a labor planning strategy.

      He also can’t tell the simple truth. He fired Brennan and outed this victim and her family as payback for his best friend and chief rapist Porter.

      The fact that he is still in position points to the negligence of this Select Board trying to cover their past decisions.

      A.S. Your new attitude that “if” this chief did the things we all know he did he should be held accountable.

      I’m not sure what you missed. This chief has been terribly transparent. He fired Brennan and out the victim for his best friend.
      He then lied to the select board and withheld the Sgt’s letter. He did all this to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He paid Brennan for 9 months. He paid Kroll. He paid his attorney with Hopkinton’s money. In front of us all, he wore it like a badge of honor. This man is intent on keeping his power. And the longer he is in his position the more opportunity he has to cover it up.

      The chief is a liar. He broke law. I would like you to question him as much as you did Sgt. Brennan for his simple policy violation.

      • Did you read what I stated?

        Bennett is not taking this seriously. It isn’t appropriate and is unbecoming. He needs to be replaced, but he is within his contact and hasn’t violated it in a way which I can find cause for immediate dismissal.

        I disagree with Brennan’s decision, as I have repeatedly told you. I find the decision and ethical violation as a police officer. This violation makes me question his judgement as a police officer.

        I’ve never said he did a bad thing as a _human being_. I don’t know how much clearer I can say this. _As a person who made a moral decision, Brennan did the right thing._ It’s been my constant discussion that it is purely about his duty as an officer, not his character.

        Chief Bennett is showing that he does not have the character to be a leader and should not be in that position. With some of the new evidence that has come to light since the beginning of the year, it has become much more clear.

        Chief Bennett’s position of recommending Brennan for dismissal might be retaliation. It still doesn’t change the fact that I think that Brennan made a bad decision. Both of these factors can be true at the same time.

        I would rather have a leader of a department whom I disagree with on professional ethical choices than one who I disagree with human moral choices. Both are not good options, but one has a larger potential for harm.

        Read into that what you will.

        All that being said, it’s time to reform the Hopkinton Police Department.

  2. I cannot imagine how time consuming this task was for you both. I applaud your commitment to the town and thank you for this.

    I truly hope Hopkinton can come out of this mess at some point very soon. As it is, it’s a quagmire. And what a shame, for Hopkinton used to be such a lovely little town.

  3. In over 35 years of working in the corporate world have I ever seen such a vague self-performance summary. There should be specific accomplishments tied to specific goals, whether completed, or in progress toward completion. This is very poor leadership by all involved. Not sure who is setting these expectations but clearly the bar is low and even at that the SB has not held him to the lowered standards. I don’t believe that the SB has any management experience, nor does the Chief have leadership qualities we need.

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