BARNSTABLE – Police don’t always get a good rap.
The Barnstable Police Department seeks to upend any negative impressions people may have with its Citizen’s Police Academy, a wildly successful marketing strategy that is now taking applicants for its 26th session.
Over the years, about 800 people have graduated from the Barnstable Citizens Police Academy, a 13-week class that gives citizens an inside perspective on local police work.
I am one of those graduates and I have the diploma, academy windbreaker and photo with the chief of police to prove it.
My credentials do not entitle me to make arrests; it’s more like bragging rights. This academy is not for slouches.
Yes, I drove a squad car, learned how to use handcuffs, shot a police pistol in target practice; and rode along on a snowy Saturday night shift.
I listened intently as police talked about drugs, domestic violence and suspects for that day’s bank robbery.
There were lighter moments like learning about Deputy Chief Craig A. Tamash’s collection of 7,000 police patches.
We also got an insider’s view of police officers’ snacking preferences during a back and forth about what food we were to bring as a nightly potluck. Our able academy director Barnstable Police Sergeant Arthur G. Caiado preferred rollwiches while Detective Kevin Connolly urged more creativity, along the lines of beef stew. (This was no idle debate. The leftovers went to hungry officers on the night shift.)
We learned about tasers and “verbal judo,” two distinct ways to deal with suspects.
We looked wide-eyed at dozens of weapons that had been confiscated from people in the town of Barnstable. Each one had a story: from the ballpeen hammer and nunchucks (weapons of choice for motorcycle gangs) to the pink pistol to the samurai sword (a Russian had apparently been wielding it on the Hyannis Village Green in front of town hall.)
Getting into the class is competitive. There is room for 40; for my session, Barnstable Police Chief Paul B. MacDonald said 123 applied.
The academy isn’t advertised, except by word of mouth.
Among the 22 women and 17 men in my class were 12 retirees, five married couples, a mother and son, nurses, teachers, court workers, an architect and a restaurant owner. There was a mother of a police officer and others with police personnel in their family. There were four young people interested in becoming police officers themselves.
After more than 55 hours of class time, instruction by more than 50 officers and civilians, the Barnstable Police Department did the seemingly impossible: left us wanting more.
Barnstable Police Chief Paul MacDonald said there have been major cutbacks in the police department in recent years, but one program they have not cut back on is the Citizens Police Academy. Its value to the department is indisputable.
In a recent interview, Deputy Chief Craig Tamash stressed the importance of the citizens academy to the department.
”It’s a great public relations tool. It’s really a great public awareness tool for us,” he said.
There is also a monetary value.
Every citizens police academy class is encouraged to give a gift to the department. Our class gave to the Barnstable Police K-9 Foundation, a nonprofit that helps supplement the cost to care for the department’s police dogs. Over the years, these gifts have added up.
“We have received some equipment that the town has not been able to provide for us,” Deputy Chief Tamash said. He cited digital cameras and bullet-proof vests for the department’s K-9s as examples.
“It’s money that is above and beyond our normal budget,” he said.
We were introduced to Ree Hirsch and Hid Welch, board members of the Bluecoats of Barnstable, a nonprofit group whose purpose is to fundraise for the police department. The Bluecoats were founded by a graduate from the fourth session of the citizens police academy. Membership dues of $200 per year pay for numerous items for the department The Bluecoats are currently paying rent for the Hyannis police substation, the chief said.
In turn, the citizens police academy does not cost the department much, Deputy Chief Tamash said, several thousand dollars out of a $12 million budget.
“It’s money well spent,” he said.
With the exception of the academy staff, made up of Academy Director Sgt. Caiado and Assistant Academy Director Officer Mark A. Delaney, all the instructors are volunteers—and enthusiastic volunteers at that.
“Everyone is very proud of what they do,” Deputy Chief Tamash said.
There is another fringe benefit of the academy. “That’s our primary source of volunteers,” he said. Barnstable Police use about 60 volunteers throughout the year serving mostly as couriers and greeters at the police station, and their services are worth about $180,000 per year according to a recent department budget presentation.
“It gives people a concept of what we really do. It brings it home to a lot of people,” Deputy Chief Tamash said of the academy.
The Barnstable Police Department is the Cape’s largest by far.
Servicing a town Barnstable Police Chief Paul MacDonald estimated at 75,000 in the winter and 150,000 in the summer takes a large department.
There are 115 officers and 17 civilians dealing with approximately 54,000 calls for service last year.
At a recent talk at the Centerville Civic Association annual meeting, Chief MacDonald said the department is on track for 60,000 calls for service this year.
Of those calls, about 63 percent go to the village of Hyannis. Centerville is second with 11 percent of the calls.
The chief announced that Part I crimes in town, which are the most serious crimes like murder and rape, are down by 36 percent.
He estimated that 90 percent of the Part I crimes in town have to do with the use, distribution and trafficking of narcotics.
And he attributed the drop to the new way his department is handling crime.
Several years ago after multiple shootings, the department radically changed the way it was fighting crime into a more proactive mode. Instead of dividing the town into sectors and sending officers on random patrols, the chief started the Street Crime Unit, a more targeted way of fighting crime.
The chief called those random patrols, “a complete waste of time,” not to mention a waste of gas. Instead of driving by a neighborhood, officers now are instructed to get out of their squad cars and talk to people,
Street Crime Unit officers go where the crime happens, seeking to disrupt the criminal element from business as usual.
According to Chief MacDonald, Barnstable is considered a major city police department by virtue of its size and number of specialties, which include motorcycles, mountain bikes, and K-9 unit.
Keeping crime in check in Barnstable has taken many forms over the years.
With 130 establishments licensed to sell alcohol in the town, in past years, there were sometimes hundreds of people congregating after bars let out resulting in fights, shootings and stabbings.
“We had virtual riots in parking lots,” Deputy Chief Tamash said.
In 2006, at the police department’s urging, town councilors passed what the chief called among the best ordinances in recent years: all retail businesses must be closed from 1 to 3 a.m., unless granted an exemption from the town manager.
The ordinance worked. “That eliminated the problem,” the chief said.
Another initiative to help curb crime in Hyannis by increasing police visibility was to open a police substation on Main Street. The station, complete with a decoy police car parked out front, opened in the spring of 2011 at the intersection of Main Street and High School Road.
Chief MacDonald recently announced plans to open a new police substation at the intersection of Route 28 and Osterville/West Barnstable Road where there is now a pizza shop, 7-Eleven and liquor store. Calling it an ideal location, Chief MacDonald said he expects the new substation to be up and running by January or February 1.
Class In Session
Barnstable police officers are typically locals who have grown up in town and have friends and family here. That is not by chance. The department has a residency requirement for new hires. All applicants have to have lived in town for at least a year to be considered for a job as a Barnstable police officer. During the citizens police academy, several officers mentioned the year they graduated from Barnstable High School as part of their introduction.
The first day of class, we were handed our citizens police academy badges, which have a familiar if not quite welcomed picture on them: our driver’s license photo. It is a slightly uneasy start to a session that makes clear that these guys have access to more stuff about us than we do about them.
But over the course of the 13-week session, all that slowly changed. We learned a great deal about the department and the individual officers, “the good, the bad and the ugly,” as Sgt. Caiado put it.
Early on, we met Barnstable Police Officer Reid Hall, who has spent 38 years with the Barnstable Police Department, and is the school resource officer at Barnstable High School. He also teaches a police academy class to high school seniors interested in a career in law enforcement.
In a wide-ranging talk about his role at the high school, he told us there are 17 cameras at BHS and school officials are looking to install more.
Out of the 2,100 students at the high school, there are about 5 to 6 percent who “push the envelope” and often get suspended, he said.
As for trends, Officer Hall said he is starting to see more serious crimes among 8th and 9th graders.
He said there are a couple knife possessions per week at the high school, and there are one or two ambulance rescue runs each week from the school.
When told about a recent incident when an eighth grade student was mouthing off to a housemaster in the cafeteria, one of my classmates asked, “Can’t you just taser him and set an example?”
Officer Hall explained he does not carry a taser at the school. “If I can’t resolve it without that equipment, I shouldn’t be there,” he said.
We learned about the police officer’s survival mindset from Officer Jonathan Pass, BHS Class of ’85.
“The bottom line is going home at the end of the day,” he said.
Officer Christopher Ross, a BHS Class of ’97 graduate whose mother was in the class, demonstrated the type of gear an officer has on hand for a typical shift, including flashlights, surgical gloves, sharps container, and bug spray.
He called being a Barnstable police officer, “the best job in the world.”
In a compelling role-playing demonstration, Officers Armando Feliciano and David Foley showed how officers approach a criminal in the process of committing a crime: voices are loud and commanding, leaving no question who is in charge.
Lieutenant Matthew Sonnabend, who came to Barnstable from the Falmouth Police Department, explained the long and intricate hiring process for officers in Barnstable.
The hallmarks of the ideal police candidate, he said, are honesty and integrity.
Deputy Chief Tamash, BHS class of ’69, gave a talk about how constitutional law affects police work. Lots of reference sheets on court cases came with this lesson.
Lieutenant Michael Clark, also a BHS graduate, and Officer Edward Cronin talked about the ins and outs of being a patrol officer.
Officer Cronin, a former Boston Police Officer who has helped solve some of the most high profile cases in town, offered perhaps the most chilling comment of the session when he said he was always taught that when you pull over a car you leaves a thumb print on the back of the car, “in case you end up dead.”
Barnstable has a number of specialty units and each received its own session during the academy.
Officer Brian Morrison, BHS class of ’89, talked about the mountain bike unit, which uses a patrol method that works particularly well in the summer when tourist traffic can delay squad car response.
Being on the streets of Hyannis for hours a day, he deals with a lot homeless people, he said. “Most of the time they are well-behaved, enjoying their beverage,” he said.
Barnstable Police Records/Property Supervisor Kathleen I. Hinckley gave us a fascinating lesson on chain of custody, which is critical for successful criminal prosecution and convictions.
As an illustration of how important a rock solid chain of custody is for evidence, we were shown a segment from the television show “60 Minutes” in which the Brockton Police Chief was found to be raiding the evidence locker to satisfy a cocaine habit.
Hinckley has the sole key for the evidence locker for Barnstable and she explained how evidence is handled.
In response to a question, she said neither she nor the officers are drug tested because the unions forbid it.
In a session on the Street Crime Unit, Barnstable Police Lieutenant John Murphy Jr., a former FBI agent who heads it up, explained why the unit was formed.
In a span of three months in 2011, there were four shootings in Barnstable and many stabbings, he said. Police believed the same core group was involved in a lot of the violent crime.
The department wanted to think outside the box to find a different strategy, Lt. Murphy said, to “deter suppress and make life uncomfortable for criminals.”
Thus began the Street Crime Unit, a multi-agency task force that has made more than 1,100 arrests since its inception in May 2011.
Members of the Street Crime Unit patrol known trouble times and spots, like Hyannis Main Street at bar closing time, when, if every bar is full, there can be 3,000 people on Main Street.
The unit’s tactics are intended “to move people causing problems out of their comfort zone,” Lt. Murphy said.
The 8-officer plainclothes unit uses unmarked cars to patrol. They typically stop 30 cars a night and they make numerous arrests nightly, he said.
Keeping in mind constitutional protections, Lt. Murphy said the unit is treading a fine line but doesn’t go over.
“We don’t want to be storm troopers,” he said.
What was left unsaid was that, coincidently, the same week Lt. Murphy spoke to our class, a Barnstable court judge’s ruling came down repudiating some street crime unit tactics.
Lt. Murphy did say he is in touch with judges at the local courts about the unit’s tactics to ensure they meet the letter of the law.
“We’re not perfect, far from it,” he said.
But the unit has made progress in keeping Hyannis safe, he said.
At his urging, local restaurant owners on Main Street have banded together so that if a troublemaking patron is banned from one bar, they are banned from all of them.
Lt. Murphy also gave a stark glimpse into the stressful world of a police officer, pointing out that police are always dealing with people in crisis, whether it is the victim of a crime, people involved in a car accident, or someone who is pulled over.
“There are good and bad days. You need a passion for it,” he said.
Barnstable Police Detective Sergeant Mark Mellyn, another officer who grew up in Barnstable, talked about the detective unit, which he heads up.
Gone are the days when the detectives worked a 9 to 5 shift. In Barnstable, they are on call 24/7.
He talked about attributes detectives must have when dealing with suspects.
“Police need to have extraordinary people skills, to be able to sit next to the devil himself and make him think you like him,” Sgt. Mellyn said.
He described one detective’s work in getting a man suspected of molesting a four-year-old to confess.
“It’s a chess game,” he said.
A police officer’s life is full of conflicting feelings, Sgt. Mellyn said, For instance, when they arrest someone, they know the suspects’ kids won’t see them that night. “That rattles around in your head,” Sgt. Mellyn said.
A police officer’s adrenaline spikes all day long, so it is no surprise to learn that they live an average of two to three years after they retire, Sgt Mellyn said. “It takes a toll,” he said.
The K-9 unit presentation included three officers and their extraordinary dogs: Officer Jeffrey Jackson and Elvis, a German shepherd; Officer Sean Roycroft and Rocky, a Belgian malinois; and Officer Troy Perry with Izzo, a Dutch shepherd.
The highly trained dogs, which are tested for courage and hardiness, cost $7,200.
The K-9 unit responds to 360 to 380 calls per year.
When situations get tricky, the K-9s are not the only unit that can be called in. Sergeant Michael Damery told us about the Special Response Team, another highly specialized unit, similar to a SWAT team.
Officers must pass a grueling physical test to be on the team. Thanks to Homeland Security, the team’s vehicle is an 18,000-pound Bearcat armored truck, complete with battering ram.
My classmates and I climbed inside and even got behind the wheel of the enormous truck.
While the average person may not come across these special units, there is one police unit with which everyone is familiar: the traffic cop.
Officer Brian Murray began his lesson on the traffic division by seeing if people knew what the legal speed limit is for various roads. He got lots of wrong answers, before he patiently enlightened the class with the correct answer: 30 (for thickly settled areas), 40 (for rural roads), and 50 (for divided highways).
Officer Murray talked about the challenges in patrolling the town’s 565 miles of roadway. He gave us a list of excuses he has heard from speeders and from those driving without a seatbelt. There was even a lady who said her bustline prevented her from buckling up. She did not receive a ticket, he said with a laugh.
We all got to try out the radar gun as a police car came barreling toward us. No one wanted to miss that opportunity.
Next Officer Brendan Burchell, who happens to lead the department in the number of operating under the influence tickets he has written, gave a very informative class on drunk driving. In order to illustrate how little alcohol it takes for people to be impaired, two members of the class were given alcohol and then put through sobriety tests. The class members who volunteered for the demonstration were given a ride to class and a ride home, plus a wake-up call the next morning to ensure they were okay.
There were a number of experiences during the academy that were unexpected, perhaps none more so than our session at the shooting range. Turns out, I’m a pretty good shot. Also turns out, I don’t like to shoot.
The officers in charge warned it is not unusual for people unaccustomed to shooting to feel unable to continue after firing the gun for the first time. I was determined that would not happen to me.
But after the first shot, I indeed felt nauseous and that feeling continued until the session was over.
Many of us in the class were looking forward to the ride-along, a chance to ride in a police car with an officer for four hours of a shift.
By the time I took my ride-along, I had heard from my classmates about their experiences. There was the couple who saw the aftermath of a fatal car crash and the classmate who sat terrified in the squad car as her officer pursued a suspect.
There are about 10 to 12 arrests per day in Barnstable so chances are good that on a ride-along, you’re going to see some action, and I did.
For my ride-along, I picked the 8 to midnight shift on a Saturday night, thinking there might be a good bit of activity. I drove with Officer Anson Moore, who managed to be both gracious and professional.
After responding to a complaint of strange noises at a home in Hyannis, we responded to a domestic violence incident in a tony neighborhood of Hyannisport. We sped across town from Yarmouth Road to Hyannisport with lights flashing and siren blazing as the first fat flakes of a snowstorm hit the windshield horizontally. It was thrilling.
During our tour of the Barnstable County Correctional Institute, we learned that the county jail is almost at capacity with 381 people out of 400. The average stay in the facility is 9 months.
To make sure every prisoner is properly identified, they photograph and document every tattoo and scar plus they do an iris scan, which, we were told, is 200 times more accurate than fingerprint. (Who knew fingerprints weren’t accurate?)
Officer Eric Drifmeyer, the department’s crime analyst and the only crime analyst on Cape Cod, explained the importance of his job. His data helped formulate the focus for the Street Crime Unit by analyzing where most of the crimes in town take place and when.
He said Barnstable had been 13 or 14 in the state for Part I, or violent crimes in the past, but has sunk down to 19 or 20 on the list, a big improvement.
Detective Brian J. Guiney’s talk on narcotics had the class’s attention. He talked about the use of informants, tough characters: “you don’t meet them in church.”
He said abuse of opiates like Oxycontin and Percocet is rampant among professionals like police officers, firemen, nurses, doctors and lawyers as well as young people on the Cape.
A habit of taking five to six of the pills a day is a $150 per day habit. That is where robbery comes in, stealing to support the habit. Estimates are that 90 percent of the crime in town is related to drugs.
Detective Therese Gallant, Detective Valerie P. Hemmila and Domestic Violence/Victim Service Specialist Jessica Jay gave presentations on sexual assault and domestic violence. The town gets about 600 restraining orders filed per year and the department records 60 to 70 sexual assaults per year.
We watched a role-playing session with Officer Rick Morse, known for being one of the more affable officers on the force, playing a sinister wife batterer. After the demonstration, he asked the class if they see him around town, to refrain from exclaiming loudly in public, as one academy graduate once did: “You’re the wife beater!”
We also received a quick lesson on how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft and a very thorough explanation of the court system by Assistance District Attorney Michael Donovan.
When the 13 weeks of the class were over, it was time for graduation. The police chief and other officers wore what they call their Class A uniforms for the event, the uniforms they use to show respect during solemn occasions, for instance at an officer’s funeral. There was a procession, speeches, and the singing of the national anthem by Barnstable Police Officer Stephen O’Brien.
The chief told us that we were part of the extended Barnstable Police Department family and to stay in touch.
Officer Delaney said the hope is that we will look at the department in a different light.
No doubt about that.
-Laura M. Reckford