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The towns of Becket and Otis have become the latest two communities to share a police chief.
Becket approached Otis after its chief decided to step away last year to see if the town would be interested in having Becket’s chief serve both towns. The two towns signed an agreement in February, and Police Chief Kristopher McDonough’s first day in Otis was March 7.
“Small towns like Otis and Becket have a hard time competing with the salaries offered in bigger communities, which makes it challenging to retain competent employees,” said Otis Town Administrator Brandi Page. “This would give Becket the opportunity to compensate Kris, who they were happy with, more competitively.”
Page said that former Becket Town Administrator Bill Caldwell, who recently transitioned to the town of Sterling, reached out to other communities who had shared the chief position, doing the groundwork on a fair and vetted agreement.
McDonough, who has served as police chief in Becket since 2012, began his tenure in Becket as a patrol officer in 2008 and has worked in law enforcement since 2001.
“It’s really a community policing model out here in the Berkshires,” McDonough said. “We have all types of calls, from very serious to very straightforward assistance. … My philosophy is based on community policing and really getting out there and getting to know the residents and what they expect from us.”
McDonough puts in 20 hours per week in each community. So far, he has been splitting Mondays and spending Tuesdays and Thursdays in Becket and Wednesdays and Fridays in Otis. The intermunicipal agreement does allow for emergency needs that might require more time in one town.
“The needs in many of the smaller Western Massachusetts towns mirror each other,” Page said. “We are looking to provide the best services we can with modest budgets and attractive tax rates.”
Similar to towns on the Cape, towns like Otis see populations expand significantly in the summer months, which requires additional public safety and public health dollars, Page said.
The position reports to the town administrators in both communities, but is officially employed and paid by the town of Becket, including all benefits. Otis contributes for half of the total compensation, including benefits and cruiser maintenance.
The towns received a $46,852 grant from the Community Compact Cabinet’s Efficiency and Regionalization program this year, which was used to purchase a cruiser for the chief.
“The experience so far has been very positive,” Page said. “Kris is doing an excellent job and transitioned immediately. … He has made a point to introduce himself in the community and the feedback has all been great.”
The current agreement runs through the end of the fiscal year, and both communities must decide by May 15 if they want to renew the agreement and for how long.
“I think towns are always looking for new and more efficient ways to run things,” Page said. “It just takes being open to the opportunity and giving it a try.”