Some Haverhill children, who otherwise would not have had much to celebrate this past Christmas, were able to buy gifts for their families because of a program called Heroes and Helpers organized by the Haverhill Police and Fire Departments.
The program identified kids who were living near the poverty level and, with the help of donations from a number of local businesses and individuals, were paired with an officer or firefighter who took them for a shopping spree at Target. Officer Nicole Donnelly, a school resource officer, who helped create the program three years ago discussed the program with Haverhill city councilors last night.
“We started off with 25 kids, went to Target. We had a pizza party. Then, we went shopping with the kids and it was fun. This year, with the generosity of 15 separate companies, schools, businesses, people, we were able to help 100 kids and have money left over for next year when we do this again,” she said.
Donnelly said each child received about $100 to spend. She said money was supplemented by donations received from shoppers in the store who realized what was happening and donated gift cards and cash. She said, with the help of the fire department and her fellow school resource officers, Gillian Brignac and Milady Figueroa, they are hoping to double the number of children taking part next year.
Officers attended the City Council meeting after Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua invited Haverhill Police Chief Robert P. Pistone to speak about the department’s recent accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. That accreditation is based on 180 standards which must be met
As reported previously by WHAV, Haverhill became only the fourth city in the state to achieve accreditation back in November. The other cities are Newton, Fall River and Danvers. Pistone told the Council it is actually quite an honor as, worldwide, only 5% of police departments have achieved such recognition.
“This isn’t just an award for us as a department. It’s something that the whole city, the whole community should be very proud of,” he said.
Councilors took the opportunity to ask the chief some policy questions. For example, Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan asked how the police were handling the issue of homelessness during the colder weather.
Pistone responded his officers are always on the lookout for people in need and find some way to help.
“We have a standing order when the weather gets real bad that we don’t leave them on the street. We either take them to the hospital. We’ve had times when it’s been really bad, come to the lobby of the police station and about four, five, six homeless people sleeping in the lobby,” the chief explained.
In response to a question by Councilor Michael S. McGonagle, the chief told the council he would follow the state’s lead on the issue of officer body cameras. He said while Haverhill police are very transparent, it is not something they plan to rush into because of costs. He explained the costs of cameras isn’t the largest expense, but rather data storage and archival systems can run into millions of dollars.