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Van Raalten earns police lieutenant promotion in 5-0 Select Board vote

by | Apr 17, 2024 | Featured: News, News, Police & Fire

The Select Board voted 5-0 to elevate Hopkinton Police Department Sgt. Detective Scott van Raalten to the rank of lieutenant at Tuesday night’s meeting, besting two highly ranked sergeants with his education and leadership experience.

In a straw poll before the final vote, van Raalten edged out fellow Sgt. Aaron O’Neil by a 3-2 margin. Sgt. Matthew McNeil also vied for the promotion. While each sergeant had specialized areas of focus, all demonstrated more than two decades of commitment to the department and its growth following two challenging years tinged with scandal.

During the interviews of the three candidates, HPD Chief Joseph Bennett noted that he had “three quality candidates.” But he referred to van Raalten as his “second in command” since August 2022, when the department lacked officers in key leadership roles. The department has been lacking a lieutenant since October 2021. In May 2023, former Deputy Chief John “Jay” Porter pled not guilty to three counts of child rape allegedly committed during his stint as a school resource officer two decades prior. Former Sgt. Tim Brennan, who did not report the allegations made by the accuser until 2023, was terminated in a contentious Loudermill hearing, with a vocal group of residents calling for Brennan’s reinstatement and a recall of all five Select Board members.

Human Resources Director Jessica Lewerenz explained that the previous oral interview panel consisted of three police chiefs from outside the HPD. Sixteen skills were analyzed during this interview process through 20 questions.

O’Neil was praised by Bennett for his community involvement and his direct work with the town’s Youth & Family Services Department regarding substance use disorders and mental health issues. He also took over the training division after being an active member for several years as an instructor.

“I have spent my entire adult life in uniform, so I understand leadership ability and its strengths as well as weaknesses,” said O’Neil, who has worked for HPD for 25 years. Prior to that, he served in the Army for a decade.

O’Neil has a master’s degree in criminal justice and has completed the FBI’s leadership training program. During his interview, he described how he helped develop programming to assist those experiencing mental health crises or situations arising from substance use disorder. A clinician rides along with officers to provide support as situations are deescalated.

He stressed the importance of team building and providing training and educational opportunities for officers.

Like O’Neil, McNeil joined the HPD 25 years ago and has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Bennett described him as “a cop’s cop” who has focused on developing the traffic enforcement program and leading a team of traffic constables. This team was critical, particularly during the Main Street Construction Project.

He also stressed his impact on young people over the years in steering them in the right direction. McNeil noted that some of the teens he helped now are bringing their families to community events.

McNeil stressed his ability to create teams as well as his capacity to take on administrative duties.

One of the accomplishments that set van Raalten apart from his colleagues is his attainment of a law degree in addition to a master’s, Bennett said.

“Throughout his career, he’s been involved in some major and critical and tragic events within the community,” Bennett said. Van Raalten was one of the two detectives who investigated and brought Neil Entwistle forward for charges of murdering his wife and child in what became an internationally covered case.

In recent years, van Raalten has become involved in the administrative and budgetary aspects of the HPD in addition to being the lead investigator, he said. His experience in helping coordinate safety operations for the Boston Marathon has allowed him to form partnerships with local, state and federal authorities.

He described himself as “a role model for the other sergeants.” He has been imparting his knowledge so that there is a succession plan in his absence.

Scott van Raalten

Scott van Raalten interviews with the Select Board on Tuesday. PHOTO/JOHN CARDILLO

A recent situation van Raalten resolved was the simultaneous scheduling of the Hopkinton High School senior car parade and the Touch-a-Truck event. After a joint meeting, the senior car parade was moved to the following day to ensure the success of both events.

After the interviews, Bennett recommended van Raalten for promotion while complimenting all three for “putting the pedal to the metal” during the staffing shortage. He said van Raalten came out “significantly on top” during the prior interview process, while the other two candidates were tied.

Select Board members Irfan Nasrullah, Amy Ritterbusch and vice chair Shahidul Mannan expressed support for van Raalten in a straw poll before the final vote. Chair Muriel Kramer supported O’Neil because of his “approachable and humble” leadership style. Member Mary Jo LaFreniere also supported O’Neil. All acknowledged that it was a challenging choice before voting unanimously for van Raalten for the promotion.

Board supports energy stretch code Town Meeting article

In other news, the Select Board voted 5-0 to support the Sustainable Green Committee’s article accepting the state’s specialized stretch energy code. It will be voted on during Annual Town Meeting beginning on May 6.

This article failed to pass at the fall Special Town Meeting last year, Sustainable Green Committee chair Geoff Rowland explained. After the vote, the committee accepted community feedback, which he said strengthened this proposal. Instead of focusing on why it is important in slowing down climate change, this presentation got into the specifics of how new construction projects will be affected. Depending upon the specific requirements, costs to developers to make their buildings fall under this code would be relatively small and cheaper than solely using fossil fuels in some instances.

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