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West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt swears in Jay Gearing as police chief in a ceremony June 28 at Town Hall.

Reminder Publishing photo by Tyler Lederer

WEST SPRINGFIELD — After four and a half years as police chief and 28 years on the force, Paul Connor has retired. In his place, Mayor William Reichelt last month appointed former detective Capt. Jay Gearing.

Gearing began his new position on June 28 after a swearing-in ceremony in the Justin Morgan Auditorium at Town Hall.

“It feels good,” said Gearing, after the ceremony. “Leading up to this was many emotions rolled into one. To have this completed feels good and I’m ready to move forward.”

Laurie Gearing affixes a badge onto her husband Jay Gearing’s uniform after he is sworn in as police chief.
Reminder Publishing photo by Tyler Lederer

Reichelt appointed him after receiving a positive recommendation from the Police Commission. He was one of several candidates recommended by Connor, who looked within the department for people to promote.

Reichelt said he was “someone that would do a good job with Chief Connor’s legacy and lead the department.” He also has good relationships with the public and with the officers, and has experience in West Springfield policing, Reichelt said.

Like Connor, Gearing has been on the force 28 years. He worked 17 years in the detective bureau, climbing the ranks from detective to detective sergeant to detective captain, before becoming police chief.

As chief, Gearing said his main goal is to continue in the same direction as Connor, in particular when it comes to community relations. Connor, he said, opened up lines of communication with the community that he wants to preserve.

He also wants to tackle the department’s recruiting difficulties. Police work, he said, is not as popular as it once was, due to “public perception.”

“We’ve been portrayed in particular ways,” he said.

“Luckily, we don’t see that here in West Springfield,” he said. “We get great support from the administration and our community as a whole.”

He also said he’s looking for more diverse recruits.

“I want a better representation of our community,” he said. “Right now, our school system speaks 50 to 60 different languages, so I think the sky’s the limit.”

Once the staff levels are high enough, Gearing said, he wants to expand the traffic bureau and bring back the community policing unit.

“We’ve got to get back to the face-to-face interactions with the community, not just the cruiser driving by on the street,” he said.

Gearing agreed that the department needed a new police station, saying West Springfield is one of the last towns in the region that still hosts its police offices in its town hall. Connor previously told Reminder Publishing that the current police headquarters was outdated and, in some areas, decrepit. A new one, he said, would bring in new technology, help with recruitment and improve department morale.

Gearing was sworn in during a standing-room-only ceremony in the hall where the Town Council and School Committee meet. Reichelt gave a speech thanking Connor for his service and Gearing for stepping up to the plate.

“I have full faith in soon-to-be-Chief Gearing,” he said.

In his speech, Connor said Gearing was fit for the job due to his calm demeanor, people skills, humility and “articulate” speech in the face of stress. He thanked Gearing for his loyalty, guidance and friendship, and said he will have support from the force.

Connor gave Gearing advice he received from former chiefs, like to keep an eye on the budget, learn from others’ mistakes, and not forget where he came from. Some of his advice was tongue-in-cheek.

“If you see a light at the end of the tunnel after a crisis, it’s probably the light of a train coming your way,” he said.

Following this, Reichelt administered Gearing’s oath of office and Gearing’s wife Laurie fastened a police chief badge onto his uniform.

Gearing then gave his own speech, in which he said he took the job due to his love of the department.

“I love this job, also because of the men and women of this Police Department,” he said.

He also discussed the state of policing in 2024. He said officers needed to be sharper, smarter and more accurate than ever due to their every action being scrutinized and every sentence being recorded.

“Gone are the days when police simply need to serve and protect,” he said. “Now we must serve and protect with precision. West Springfield demands it, the district attorney’s office needs it and our integrity and honor requires the same,” he said.

However, he said this was not a detriment.

“I see this as law enforcement being better equipped and a reminder that our target moves constantly and we must remain fluid to meet this challenge head-on,” he said. “That’s not easy, I know, but the mantle of responsibility isn’t just a catchphrase. Police officer must accept this very responsibility knowing full well the never-ending demand.”

He also said one of West Springfield’s strengths is that it is a pro-police community.