Rataj sworn in as new HPD chief
HINSDALE, N.H. — Hinsdale's new police chief, who was sworn in at the Monday night meeting of the Board of Selectmen, has 17 years of law enforcement experience, five years of that with the police department in Bellows Falls, Vt. Charles Rataj, most recently with the Newport Police Department, also served in deployments as a military policeman to Iraq and Afghanistan with the Vermont National Guard.
"I have known Chuck for almost 18 years," said Keith Clark, who was the chief of the Bellows Falls Police Department during Rataj's first four years there. "He and I attended the Vermont National Guard officers candidate school together and received our commissions at the same time. I encouraged him to pursue a career in law enforcement. I did so because I saw he was leader and hard working. I never saw him back down from a challenge no matter how daunting it appeared. I think he will do a great job in Hinsdale and I wish him luck."
"Charles has a very impressive resume," said Steve Diorio, who was sworn in as chairman of the Hinsdale Board of Selectmen on March 16. "We, as a board, are very confident in his leadership."
Rataj takes over a department that is short staffed. It's most recent chief, Todd Faulkner, left late last year for a position with the Cheshire County Sheriff's Department. Faulkner spent 23 years with the Hinsdale Police Department.
"We have a challenge in Hinsdale," said Diorio. "We are down to a handful of officers. Staffing will be Rataj's No. 1 priority."
"I'm a very positive person," Rataj told the Reformer. "The Hinsdale Police Department needs help and we need good people, but we have two fantastic leaders in Lt. Melissa Evans and Sgt. Adam Belville to build around. Evans and Belville are young and have a lot of energy. They are knowledgeable and are great leaders."
The department has 10 positions authorized by the board. The only other full-time officer in the department is David Eldridge. The department also has three "special officers," Marcello D'Alessandro, Jack LaPorte, and former Hinsdale Police Chief Wayne Gallagher. The town has contracted with the New Hampshire State Police to help provide coverage.
Rataj also noted that Hinsdale has a "brand-new, well-equipped facility," that the department moved into in 2012.
"And our wages aren't that far behind most other small police departments," said Rataj. The town is also offering a $10,000 signing bonus to New Hampshire-certified officers and $7,500 to those from another state, he said. "That's attractive to a young officer who wants to come into a community where he or she can make a difference."
Rataj said he is looking forward to building a department from the ground up.
"I plan to recruit young, energetic people who are community oriented and who have good morals and a good work ethic," he said. "We are starting with a blank slate. The Hinsdale Police Department has all the building blocks we need for a great department. We are going to become a destination that young police officers want to be a part of."
Rataj, who is 45, said he took the job in Hinsdale because it provides him with the opportunity to build an effective team.
"There are going to be some tough days ahead of us, but if we can go out, work had and have a good time doing it, we can make a difference," said Rataj.
Also high on the list of priorities is attacking the drug problem in Hinsdale, said Rataj. He hopes to be approachable and keep the lines of communication open so that he and his officers can stop problems before they occur by getting help to people who need it.
"When you have positive energy, people get excited and want to join in," he said.
Rataj was in Hinsdale for its annual Town Meeting on March 14, during which voters approved funding for a new cruiser.
"The town is willing to support us with funding and has given us the tools and resources we need," said Rataj.
Rataj, who was born in Philadelphia, moved to Vermont with his parents in the 1980s. In addition to the Bellows Falls Police Department and the Newport Police Department, Rataj worked in Norwich, Vermont, from 2008 to 2015 and Windsor, Vermont, from 2015 to 2017.
"I have a lot of connections on both sides of the Connecticut River," said Rataj.
In Newport, Rataj served as a detective lieutenant and was member of the department's crash reconstruction team. He was also a member of the Sullivan County Sexual Assault Response Team, Sullivan County Child Advocacy Center Team and Adverse Child Experiences Response Team. He was a member of the Tri-State Intelligence group, The Upper Valley Intelligence Group and the Sullivan County Drug Group.
In addition to his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Rataj trained military police in Macedonia, worked with military police in Croatia and led 30 soldiers patrolling the desert between Arizona and Mexico with the U.S. Border Patrol during Operation Jump Start.
Clark said Rataj is always up to a challenge and recounted a story from their training together in the National Guard.
"At the time, Chuck couldn't swim, and one of the obstacles was getting through 10 meters of water while carrying a rifle," said Clark. "Not being able to swim, he did the next best thing and walked across the bottom with his rifle above the water. He finds a way to get things done."
Bob Audette can be contacted at email@example.com.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.