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Bar News - July 4, 2008

New Manchester Police Chief David Mara: Street Cop with a Law Degree


Chief David Mara

For most of his career, David Mara, Manchester’s new police chief, has stressed two points to his fellow officers: that community counts and that an arrest is only part of the job.

"I tell officers that they need to know the law better than the attorneys," said Mara, who attended law school while working the midnight shift at the department in the early 90s. "They have to decide on an action in an instant that will later be scrutinized by superiors, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and juries, so they have to have a better working knowledge of the law."

Those points are made clear when, standing in front of 80 lbs. of marijuana, a bag of cocaine, $126,000 cash, firearms and a samurai sword, he gives a press conference to show off the spoils of a battle against the city’s drug dealers and the result of a months-long cooperative investigation by the Manchester Police Department, the NH State Police and the FBI.

"This is the kind of thing that happens when you work together," says David Mara, pointing to the massive pile of drugs and money, mindful that this seizure is only the first step of a long legal process.

Mara, a 22-year veteran of the Manchester police department and a 14-year member of the New Hampshire Bar Association, was appointed this April to Chief of Police for the city of Manchester by Mayor Frank Guinta.

"Perhaps his most important attribute is that he currently has the complete and total confidence of the men and women of the Manchester Police Department, a group whose opinion I hold in highest regard," said Guinta.

On the Streets

The street-wise Mara was born and raised in Chelsea, MA, a city consistently near the top of the list of Massachusetts cities with the highest crime rates. Mara says that it was there that he developed his respect for law enforcement.

"We’d go up and shake the hands of police officers," Mara says. "I was drawn by the perceived excitement of the job and the fact that if anybody needed help, the police were there."

So, after graduating from Northeastern University with a degree in Criminal Justice, Mara moved to New Hampshire and joined the Manchester police department in 1986, where he learned early the key to police work: community involvement.

"Like all new recruits at the time, I was given a walking patrol route. It was an invaluable experience to me; walking is very different from driving," Mara says, shifting in his seat, the memory of his experience still clear in his mind. "You learn about the community, you learn who’s who, good and bad."

Bridging the Gap

It was during his patrol days, when he once led the department in arrests that he learned the second pivotal lesson about law enforcement, a lesson that he has been trying to teach his fellow officers ever since.

"I learned that the work doesn’t end at the arrest. Court taught me about what each party was looking for," Mara says. "[Court] taught me what the police supervisors, prosecutors, the defense attorneys and the judges were looking for. I had an interest in that."

That experience led Mara, after four years as an officer, to take the LSAT and apply to the New England School of Law. In the fall of 1990, two months after his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, Mara began attending law school in the afternoons and working the midnight shift at the department.

"When I was in law school, they taught me the foundation. They gave me an understanding of the law and provided the things I needed to know to pass the bar exam," Mara says. "But, I learned more about the law by going to the superior court. It was better than anything I learned in law school. I learned how to make the right decisions by watching and experiencing the way the law worked."

In 1994 Mara returned to regular patrol and was temporarily assigned to the city solicitor’s office, where he helped the prosecutors for the Manchester District Court. Shortly after, he took a one-year leave of absence from the police department to serve as a prosecutor for the city, further developing his understanding of the workings of the criminal justice system.

Michael J. Iacopino of Brennan Caron Lenehan & Iacopino in Manchester frequently practices in the Manchester courts when Mara was a prosecutor for the city solicitor and says that the chief is "a straight shooter who tells you exactly what he thinks. What you see is what you get."

When he returned to the department a year later, Mara was promoted to street sergeant and then soon moved into the legal division of the department where he worked juvenile prosecution and adult arraignments until 2001, when he was again promoted, to lieutenant.

In the department’s legal division Mara taught recruits search and seizure policy at the city’s in-house academy. The goal, he says, was to make them think differently, to make them look forward towards prosecutorial ends, not just the arrest.

"If you can’t articulate in court within the constraints of the constitutional framework, then you can’t be a good police officer," he says.

A Change Is Coming

Mara drilled officers in the techniques and procedures he developed as Administrative Standards Captain up until earlier this year when he was picked ahead of the department’s three deputy chiefs – a department first – to fill the position vacated by former Manchester Chief of Police John Jaskolka.

"I wanted to change the department. I just wanted to plead my case," he says of his interview for the position. "I was able to convince the right people of that and got the job."

The proposed changes that got him to the head office, Mara says, stem directly from his experience on his walking patrol route and reflect a radical shift in the way the city’s police department currently operates. His proposed changes include drastically improving and enlarging a community policing unit and doing what he calls "getting back to getting to know the people."

Getting to know Manchester’s people is a daunting task in itself, considering that the city of more than 100,000 residents, has thousands who are either non-English speakers or have a minimal command of the language. But Mara says that this is a pivotal move in bringing down the gang and drug-related activities in a city that has recently seen rising property crime rates, increased gang activity and the relatively recent crime-related murder of an officer in the line of duty.

"[The department] was structured vertically with patrol doing a lot of different tasks," he says, displaying a chart of the current department structure and another chart with the proposed changes – which show a significant increase in street patrol operations. "We’ve become a reactive police department. We’re responding to situations rather than preventing them. I want to change that."

And the drugs, weapons and cash on the table, Mara says, are proof positive that things are going to change.

"This shows the people what goes on in their city as well as showing that we’re going to do something about it. We’ve got a dedicated attorney general and county attorney," Mara says, ever pressing the message, "but we need their help to know everything that’s going on."


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