The benefits of teamwork in successful policing were the takeaways from a Public Safety Breakfast Forum last Friday at the Haverhill Country Club.
Sponsored by the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, the forum focused on teamwork between divisions of law enforcement, community police departments and police and the public at large.
Police chiefs from Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen and North Andover along with Essex County Sheriff Kevin F. Coppinger and retiring District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett took part in the event with Coppinger presenting his ideas on how different law enforcement divisions work together.
“I look at the criminal justice system like a baseball game. In the first three innings, when someone dials 9-1-1, these gentlemen and their peers answer the call. They take care of the first three innings. They’re front lines for public safety. And, then the middle three innings, the relievers that come out of the bullpen are the district attorney’s office because they have to prosecute the cases. And, then the last three innings, I guess you could say, it’s us at corrections for those that get convicted and we have a job to do so when they return to society, they return in better shape than when they arrived at our front door,” the sheriff said.
Haverhill Police Chief Robert P. Pistone agreed with the analogy, noting that law enforcement has changed since he first entered the field.
“Years ago, when I started in law enforcement, people would be arrested, thrown in jail, do their time, but there was no problem solving. Today, as you’re hearing, there’s a holistic approach,” he explained.
Pistone cited examples where his staff has worked with the poor to help find housing and fill other needs rather than simply putting them in a cell.
Methuen Police Chief Scott J. McNamara added another area where teamwork is important is between the police and the public they serve. He said his city has begun a policy where officers make it a point to interact socially with members of their community.
“It could be something as simple as they park and walk for example. A business check-in, getting out of the car, walking and talking to a manager or a clerk or a patron of the business, getting to know the people. We do have some of our officers now making it a point to stop at the bus stops in the morning and just talk to children while they wait for the bus to pick them up,” he said.
All of the chiefs agreed the other element of teamwork, collaborating with other Merrimack Valley Police Departments, is a major key to success. Lawrence Police Chief Roy Vasque said it was all about “strength in numbers.”