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Inside a small conference room at Town Hall on Wednesday morning, Town Manager Michael Milone announced his appointment for the next Chief of Police in Cheshire.
Out of a field of 61 candidates and, ultimately, three finalists, Milone selected Neil Dryfe, who currently serves as the Assistant Chief with the Hartford Police Department. Dryfe was officially introduced during a press conference Wednesday morning in Town Hall that lasted roughly 30 minutes. A few Town Councilors, as well as members of the Cheshire Police Department, including interim chief Joe Popovich, attended the introduction.
"I am honored and humbled to make it all the way. This has been a career goal I set for myself," Dryfe said. "It was a no-brainer for me to apply."
Dryfe has 20 years of law enforcement experience, all with the city of Hartford. He has served as the Assistant Chief since 2007.
He began his career as a police officer and quickly rose through the ranks as sergeant, lieutenant, and deputy chief. When Dryfe was promoted to deputy chief, he rose ahead of several captains on the force, an unusual move in most public safety organizations.
"I am really looking forward to this. I can't wait to get started. My first goal is to meet everyone in the department," Dryfe said. "We will try to move the organization in the right direction. I will be open to the department and to the community. I want to find out from the community how we can better serve them."
The police chief job became vacant on Oct. 31, following the retirement of Michael Cruess, who served in the top position for more than four years. Cruess' final year was full of controversy before his retirement as, in 2009, the Cheshire Police Union issued a vote of no confidence in his leadership. Consultants and other professionals were hired to try and sift through what went wrong in the department. A rash of retirements created a number of vacancies in the department, but almost everyone denied that their departure had nothing to do with the internal issues of the Cheshire Police Department.
Milone said he made his decision around two weeks ago, but an announcement was delayed as background checks, psychological exams, and polygraph tests had to be administered. Milone said the entire process took longer than he had expected, but that was a result of an excellent field of candidates.
"I agonized for a long time. This was a difficult decision. I knew it would have a significant impact on the police department, the people in this room, and the entire community," Milone said. "(Dryfe) has demonstrated strong leadership skills and I think he'll be a great addition to the town."
Dryfe, who currently has around 300 officers under his command in Hartford, will run a department that is budgeted for around 50 sworn officers. Part of what attracted Dryfe to this smaller community was the ability to know the people with whom he works. He said that, during roll call in Hartford, a morning meeting with his officers, if someone forgot their name tag, he might not know who they were. Instead, he wants to know if someone is a Red Sox or Yankees fan, he wants to say hello to them in the hallway calling them by their first name, and ask how their children are doing.
"I look forward to getting to know these people. Not knowing people caused my job satisfaction to go down," he admitted. "I see this as an opportunity more than a challenge. I will try to be fair and effective and do what's best for the organization."
Milone thanked the members of the Police Department who have led in the interim period. He said they were "very helpful and responsive" during this transitional time, adding they did a "exceptional job." They will continue to run the department until Dryfe takes over on Jan. 3.
Dryfe stated that, coming from Hartford to a smaller community really makes no difference when it comes to police work.
"We all expect the same things — safe schools, safe roadways," he said. "Police are the (residents') partners in attaining that."
Dryfe, who lives in Avon with his wife and three children, received his bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Connecticut and a Master's degree in criminal justice administration from Western New England College. Additionally, Dryfe has completed the Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Executive Development Seminar and the Police Executive Research Forum, Senior Management Institute for Police. These programs provide police the tools to enhance their leadership skills, Milone explained. According to the Hartford Police Department Web site, Dryfe supervised the Communications Division and the Crime Analysis Unit before serving as Public Information Officer. Also, he was appointed commander of the Internal Affairs Division in 2002 and stayed there for three years before being promoted to Deputy Chief and, ultimately, Assistant Chief.
Dryfe will commence his duties as the next Cheshire Police Chief on Jan. 3 with a starting salary of $100,000.