The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 27, 2008

Carlisle Police Department handles all calls,
24 x 7


Chief John Sullivan reviews morning calls with dispatcher Mike Taplin. (Photo by Anne Marie Brako)

Can you name five officers of the Carlisle Police Department? Would it surprise you to learn that there are ten full-time officers and another eight officers who serve the town on a part-time or as-needed basis? Often they have a low profile and once the year ends at the Carlisle Public School, there is not even an officer to be seen in the afternoon helping students at the Gleason Library crossing Route 225. However, last year the dispatch center recorded 9,957 log entries (down 67 from the previous year). When a call comes in, a police officer is usually the first on the scene, ahead of other emergency personnel.

You probably are more familiar with police cars than police officers in town, as two cars are out on patrol at all times. The police make building and house checks, respond to alarms, and stop traffic violators. You will also see the parked police vehicles blocking traffic due to a car accident or a downed tree. Last year, police conducted 6,905 checks of businesses and town buildings (up 438 from 2006) and 1,607 house checks (up 127). They responded to 362 alarms, 157 animal complaints, and 92 accidents. Police officers issued five restraining orders, 23 arrests, 120 citations, and 1,708 warnings, with 2,022 motor vehicle stops. Nonetheless, there were only two assault and batteries (see table)

“We know it’s a small town and quiet, but we’ve established a reputation of being a very professional police department,” says Chief John Sullivan. He noted that if you ask around, most people say nothing ever happens in Carlisle, “But we’re usually working on a bunch of investigations. There’s always something going on. But I guess it’s good for people to feel safe and think there’s nothing going on.”

Chief Sullivan believes that house breaks could be on the rise this year. Last year, there were only two reported housebreaks, and the owner of one house reported the incident almost a week after it happened. By that time, the town of Chelmsford had already recovered about 80% of the stolen jewelry.

By having established a professional and respected force, Sullivan believes the Carlisle officers are able to maximize relationships with officers from surrounding towns. He explained, “Other communities – they’re the ones with the 10- and 20-person detective units. We go to meetings where they share the legwork that they are doing.”

Residents can also do something about an increase in break-ins. “We encourage house alarms,” says Sullivan. “There are people that accidentally set them off and think they are annoying us, but we appreciate them! When an alarm goes off at an attempted break, they [the criminals] just take off.” On windy days, police expect a lot of false alarms, but they still respond to them in a timely manner.

Inspector Andy Booth has worked in the Carlisle police department since 1999. He grew up in Chelmsford, so he is very familiar with the area. He investigates cases, and found responding to an active house break particularly exciting. He had to catch “two suspects trying to break into a house on East Street. They fled when we arrived on scene and a short pursuit occurred.” The criminals raced up East Street, turned on Lowell Street, but had their car roll over across from the Transfer Station entrance on Elizabeth Ridge.

Booth also holds a role, less exciting than chasing criminals, but of equal importance to parents, in serving the town as a certified safety-seat technician. He helps people install child safety seats.

Only woman wearing the badge

Officer Debra Saponaro serves Carlisle as the only woman police officer. She came to the town’s police force in 1997 as a full-time officer, but four years ago, upon the birth of her second son, she decided to work part-time. She worked in Ashland for two years before coming to Carlisle, where she did a lot of motor vehicle stops and arrests. In Carlisle, she is pleased that some callers ask for her by name.

“It’s not a big town where we specialize,” says Saponaro. “But I did do a lot of the domestic violence calls when I was full-time. You do develop a rapport with the town and people see you around in uniform. I would have calls that I would go on, and then they would become calls that I would go see if they had continued trouble. I think people want to see females about certain things, and I think we handle things in a different manner.

“If there’s a bar fight, it’s probably not me you want to take in, but in so many other situations, I think I would be a good one to take in.”

The scariest call she went on involved gun shots being fired from a van on Brook Street six years ago. Although initially called to the site, she was rerouted to chase and stop a suspected van sighted on Route 225. The van turned out to be different one, although when the right one did get stopped, it contained kidnappers of a witness who was supposed to testify in a federal case. She confessed not to feeling afraid during the call, but being worried later about what could have happened.

“People always say ‘Well, you work in the town of Carlisle. What happens there?’” relates Saponaro. “I think that’s one of the hardest parts – you let your guard down – everything is so routine – you get a thousand false alarms, and then something happens.” Nonetheless, she does not mind missing out on the crime experienced by other larger communities.

“I love the service part of this job, and that’s why I think I’ve traveled to Carlisle,” says Saponaro, who lives over a half hour drive away in northern Massachusetts. “In this town, we do help people. The elderly may have trouble doing something – I love going on those calls. I love going on a call when I can help somebody and leave with a smile versus somebody who wants to spit on you.”

Staff rotations

Carlisle police officers work five days and then take two days off, unlike most police departments that work four days and then take two days off, according to Sullivan. “As a result, we work 17 or 18 more days a year,” the chief says. He explained that the department provides about two weeks in compensation time to the officers to equalize the situation. Under his predecessor, Chief Galvin, the department reviewed the staffing situation, and determined it was cheaper to the town to bring in part-time and contract police officers, and pay existing staff over-time rather than hire another full-time officer.

Right now, the department is seeking another two part-time officers. The department receives many applications a week, so personnel are available, but Sullivan takes the time to identify and hire the best people for the town. All applicants have gone through police academy training, and must meet all the physical and educational requirements necessary.

Community programs

Special programs offered in Carlisle include Drug Awareness and Resistance Education (DARE) taught each year to fourth graders in the Carlisle School. The police also participate with several nearby towns in the Domestic Violence Assistance Program, which provides crisis intervention and outreach to people in abusive relationships.

The Carlisle Police Department is also involved in the Restorative Justice Program, which enables a young, first-time offender of a non-serious crime to avoid an appearance in court. Spring can be a busy time of year for the program, as some graduating youth mark the occasion by underage drinking and vandalism. Chief Sullivan reviews all applicants to the program for crimes committed in Carlisle, and notes that most offenders are from other towns.

The chief described the extensive program, which begins with the offender’s admittance to the crime and issuing an apology letter if appropriate. The offender must meet one-on-one with an officer and with parents for a series of “circle” meetings to discuss what happened, identify underlying causes, and learn how to avoid problems recurring in the future. The youth may also meet with relevant town representatives or committees, and provide community service atonement. Various grants have covered the cost of Restorative Justice in the past, but as this funding dries up, offenders are being asked to contribute to and cover the costs incurred. According to the town’s Annual Report, “18 local youth” participated in the Restorative Justice program during 2007.

Regional cooperation

Officers work with those from larger communities to respond to crime through membership in the Northeast Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC). The 49 communities pool resources for issues including search and rescue, crime scene investigation, school threat assessment and cyber crime.

Statistics show that most Carlisle town residents have met a town police officer at a traffic stop – first-timers usually get off with a warning and a polite encouragement to slow down. Or you may have accidentally set off a house alarm. If you are lucky enough to meet a police officer this year by seeing one in uniform at Old Home Day festivities, be sure to stop and say “hello.” ∆

Carlisle Police Officer Paul Smith directs traffic around mowing equipment on Bedford Road on Tuesday. (Photo by Dave Ives)


© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito