The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 10, 2004


It's not what he expected Police Chief describes 30 years of career twists and turns

Carlisle Police Chief Dave Galvin is shown at his desk in his office at the police station. The quilt hanging on the wall was a present made by his wife for the opening of the new police station in 1987. (Photo by Ellen Huber)
When Police Chief David Galvin graduated from Suffolk University in the early 1970s, he had a few solid assumptions about his future. He planned to join the FBI. He was certain he did not want to make a career of small-town police work. And he considered himself a confirmed bachelor.

Since then, he's completed two post-graduate degrees: a master's in criminal justice and a law degree. He's served as Carlisle's Chief of Police since 1978. And he's been married for the past 20 years. Although his dream of joining the FBI got sidetracked in the process, he still had the opportunity to spend three months at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, doing a special training for police chiefs.

"While I was in college, I spent summers as a part-time officer with the police force in Hampton, New Hampshire," he says about his earliest stint in law enforcement. "That was a great work experience. After graduating, I was waiting for the chance to take the FBI exam and applied for a full-time position in Hampton, but the chief didn't believe in hiring single guys! So I accepted a full-time job with the Carlisle force in 1974 instead, expecting it to be temporary."

In 1976, he was offered the opportunity to join the state police force. "It was a hard decision," he says. "By that time, I'd been promoted to sergeant in Carlisle, and was enjoying the additional responsibilities that went with the job. So I decided not to go on to the state force. Two years later, at the age of 28, I was promoted to chief."

At that time, Carlisle's population was under 3,000. The Police Department consisted of four or five full-time officers assisted by a force of part-time "special officers," local residents who literally parked cruisers in their driveways at night should they be needed. It was somewhat analogous to the way Carlisle's fire department functions today. "There were no on-duty officers after midnight at that time," Galvin explains. "If a call came in, dispatcher Esther Wilson — wife of former Fire Chief Waldo Wilson — would contact one of the special officers at home."

The next decade would see numerous changes for the young Police Chief. He met his wife at the wedding of a mutual friend. Within a year, the confirmed bachelor was married. Meanwhile, Carlisle was growing rapidly in population, and demand was spreading for the Police Department to acquire its own station. It had operated out of one room in the old Town Hall, which is now the part of the Gleason Public Library that faces Bedford Road, and then from 1981-87 in a trailer behind the library, which is now the parking area "The town bestowed final approval for construction of the new police station on May 12, 1986," Galvin recalls. "The reason I know the date is because it's the same day my older daughter was born. I went straight from Emerson Hospital to Town Meeting. It was a long day."

In 1978 Dave Galvin became Chief of Police at the age of 28. (Photo by Ellen Huber)

Since the time Galvin joined the force, the town's population has doubled, but he says the nature of crime in town has not changed greatly. "In Carlisle, we see everything you'd see in any suburban community, just in smaller numbers," he says. "Traffic-related concerns are a big issue for us, with so many commuters driving through. Mostly, we handle traffic violations, housebreaks, drunk driving, teenage vandalism: the same kinds of things we've always had." Internet crime, such as identity theft and cyberstalking, has presented some new challenges, and several members of the department have received special training in these forms of "white-collar crime."

What has evolved more than the issues themselves, he says, is how certain problems are handled. He cites domestic violence as one example. "In the 1970s, the goal in a domestic abuse situation was essentially to keep the peace. If nobody had committed an actual felony, the officer would just separate the parties and say 'We don't want to have come back here.' These days, if an assault and battery has occurred in a domestic situation, we issue an arrest." Sensitivity toward the victim is a much greater concern as well, he says. "We always want [victims] to understand that it's not their fault."

Another significant change during his decades on the force is in the approach to drunk driving, Galvin says. Like domestic violence, response these days is more forceful and more proactive than it once was. He recalls an unsettling event that happened early in his career. "Back in the 1970s, if you stopped an adult for driving while intoxicated, you mostly wanted to make sure he got home safely. I once stopped an older gentleman here in town who had a little alcohol on his breath. He failed the sobriety test, but didn't seem all that inebriated to me. I brought him to the station and called his wife to pick him up. His wife took him outside, then came back in and said to me, 'I wish you'd arrested him. My husband is an alcoholic and needs to address this issue. What you just did doesn't help.' That was a wakeup call to me. Society has changed for the better since then. We're addressing issues the way they should be addressed."

As for juveniles, Galvin says their offenses differ little from what they've always been: mailbox vandalism, alcohol consumption, marijuana possession. He describes the relatively new Restorative Justice Program, which he was instrumental in bringing to Carlisle, as a highly promising new approach to juvenile crime. The Restorative Justice Program employs a model in which a volunteer network of concerned citizens serves as allies for youths who have committed minor infractions, with an emphasis for the youths on understanding the effects of their actions and making amends. Overall, Galvin does not see significant changes in Carlisle youth as far as law enforcement is concerned. "Any teacher or school administrator will tell you that kids and their behavioral issues go in cycles. You'll have a really problematic class followed by a really good class. It's always been like that."

Galvin believes that the public service function of his Police Department is just as important as the law enforcement aspect. Although he knows that townspeople chuckle over the Police Blotter printed in the Mosquito every week, with its ceaseless accounts of wild animals and citizens calling the police for such dubious emergencies as a thermostat set too low, he says that helping residents with their daily concerns is part of working in a small community. "We have the kind of staff who are committed to going above and beyond what is expected of them. People know that they can call us when they've locked themselves out of the house, or there's a squirrel in their living room. That's not police work per se; it's serving the public. I tell my staff, it's great that we're catching housebreakers. That's important, and we do a good job at it. We're highly trained professionals. But what people are going to remember is that we came to help them get a raccoon out of their basement, or we checked on their house when they were on vacation and thought they'd left the coffee maker on. That's the kind of relationship you want to have with a community."

Galvin describes himself as an avid golfer, a woodworker and an enthusiastic skier, although he has had little time in recent years to pursue hobbies. His wife is an emergency room physician at the Lahey Clinic. With one daughter at the University of Delaware and the other in high school in their hometown of Winchester, he is beginning to think about pursuing classes in subjects that have long interested him such as Eastern religion and Shakespeare. At the age of 53, he is firmly committed to staying in Carlisle for as long as he remains in law enforcement, but he's not immune to other options in the future. In 1994, he completed his law degree by attending school at night. He expects that when he's had enough of police work, he'll go into legal practice: maybe estate planning, maybe real estate law, or maybe, he concedes when the inevitable question arises, criminal justice.

"My wife always says to me, 'You've spent 30 years putting people in jail; now you're going to start trying to get them out?' But from what I know about the legal system, I would have no compunctions about working it from the other side. The goal, whether you are a police officer or a lawyer, is to seek justice and to make sure the system works for each and every person."

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito