MANCHESTER, NH — In a brief but moving unofficial changing of the guard during Tuesday night’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, Manchester Police Chief David Mara was congratulated for his 29 years of service to the city, and Assistant Chief Nick Willard was welcomed as Mara’s successor.
Both Mara and Willard received standing ovations from the Board of Aldermen and the audience, which included several rows of police officers.
During his remarks, Gatsas looked directly at Mara several times as he thanked him for his years of service.
“I know you’ve never been one to take credit when credit is due. You’re always going out of your way to recognize others,” said Gatsas, who credited Mara for shaping the police department into the “modern policing force” it is today.
Gatsas circulated a photograph taken last week of Mara and some of his fellow officers playing basketball with kids at Beech Street School, part of a new police initiative to build relationships with city youth. Gatsas said it exemplified Mara’s leadership.
“I remember when you became chief you told this board community policing was the most important thing this board could do, and that the relationship officers have with city youth can be life changing, for both the youth and officers. You’ve made it your personal mission to foster lasting relationships, and this has made our community stronger,” Gatsas said.
Gatsas read a proclamation which garnered Mara a standing ovation, making it even more difficult for Mara to deliver his brief but obviously heartfelt comments.
He spoke of how he moved to New Hampshire from Massachusetts 29 years ago, fulfilling his dream of becoming a city cop.
“It was one of the proudest days of my life,” said Mara, who struggled through a rush of emotion to finish his thoughts — that policing is all about “working together,” and understanding that in a city like Manchester, we all want the same things.
“We all want to be safe. We all want quality of life. It doesn’t matter if you’re a refugee or a business man; that’s what we have to do, is bond together over what we have in common,” Mara said.
As Mara exited the horseshoe, Willard made his way forward where Gatsas asked for a motion to confirm Willard as chief, effective July 1.
“With pleasure,” said Ward 7 Alderman William Shea, making a motion which was seconded by Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw.
“Discussion?” said Gatsas, barely waiting before asking his follow-up question: “All in favor?” to a round of “ayes.”
“Opposed?” Gatsas asked, followed by crickets and then a thunder of applause and standing ovation, as Willard circulated to shake hands with each board member, before making his brief remarks.
“I’m humbled, and I’ve been humbled, going back to when Chief Mara had the confidence in me to make me his Assistant Chief. I didn’t realize the enormity of it right away, but I quickly understood,” Willard said.
He told the board he appreciated the support they’ve shown the department.
“You’ve given us everything we’ve asked for,” said Willard, including requests for more officers, despite the departments continued effort to hire more officers to reach full complement.
Willard said his plan is simply to serve his fellow officers.
“The way I see it, if I’m serving you properly, you’re going to do a heck of a job for the citizens of Manchester,” Willard said. “I will do everything I can to fulfill the expectations I’m feeling from all of you.”
Mara has served as chief for the past seven years. Willard was promoted to Assistant Chief on June 17, 2013. He joined the Manchester Police Department in July of 1992. Prior to that, he was a patrolman with the Sanbornton Police Department and also served four years in the U.S. Air Force. He started his career in the patrol division and worked in various assignments, including Community Policing Unit, Patrol Supervisor, Detective, Detective Supervisor and Detective Commander.
Willard will assume his new role beginning July 1.
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