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March 31, 2005, Thursday THIRD EDITION

GLOBE SOUTH; Pg. 1

HELP WANTED: COPS
WAVE OF POLICE RETIREMENTS LEAVES COMMUNITIES WITH ROOKIES ON FRONT LINES

By Matt Carroll, Globe Staff and Michael Naughton, Globe Correspondent

Like many police officers hired during the 1970s, Middleborough Detective Barney E. Storms plans to retire this year, after 25 years on the force.

Officers in training, like Terry M. Meleski of Middleborough, meanwhile, are waiting eagerly to replace Storms and his contemporaries, once the old-timers head off to golf courses and favorite fishing holes, grandchildren, and, for some, new careers. Meleski will join the Middleborough Police Department in June after his 40-person class graduates from the Weymouth Regional Police Academy.

Veterans are leaving the job, rookies just arriving. The replenishing of ranks takes place regularly on every police force, but in the past couple years, many departments have turned over personnel on a larger scale than usual.

Several communities south of Boston, including Braintree, Brockton, Dedham, Holbrook, Quincy, and Middleborough, have hired relatively large numbers of new officers recently. A few are hiring for the first time in years.

The transformation of these departments is driven by a wave of retirements, completing a cycle that began in the 1970s when rapidly growing suburban communities added large numbers of officers to their payrolls, including many Vietnam War veterans, according to area police chiefs. An improving economy has also permitted some communities to fill police positions that had been left open to save money, they said.

Many of the new officers are veterans as well, some having seen combat in the Persian Gulf wars or Afghanistan. Most of them also are excited about serving, are better educated and better trained in police work, and are more technologically savvy than their predecessors, the police chiefs say.

The downside of the turnover is that many communities are losing decades of invaluable experience.

Brockton Police Chief Paul J. Studenski said he has offered jobs to 18 people, after at least a dozen officers retired last year from the 198-officer department.

This year, the 57-year-old chief, hired in 1971, plans to join the ranks of retirees. "I'm going to miss it, but, like all things, when you think it's time, you have to act on it," he said.

Studenski said the challenges facing the new officers include how to acquire the vast amount of knowledge about law and law-enforcement procedures they will need on their new jobs. The police academy is the starting point, with the rest sinking in over time, he said. But they also will have far better technology at their disposal than the previous generation, from laptops in patrol cars to better firearms, as Smith & Wesson revolvers have been replaced by Glock semiautomatic pistols.

Marc J. Zepf says he knows how much he still has to learn. The 27-year-old Army veteran, who served in Afghanistan, graduated from the Plymouth police academy in December, and is now an officer in Mansfield. He began working patrol on his own last month.

"I heard from other guys I work with who have been here awhile that the training will never stop," said Zepf. "It's going to take at least a year or two before I finally feel comfortable." During his field training, he said, "I just was trying to be a big sponge, trying to absorb everything."

It took Zepf nine years to get on a police force. At times during the wait he was so discouraged that he considered applying for jobs in other states.

Both the training and the trainees have changed significantly through the years, according to Carl H. Parsons, director of the Weymouth Regional Police Academy.

Students today are much better educated than when he started in the academy in 1985, Parsons said. Most have at least a two-year associate's degree; some even a master's. Two in the latest class attended law school, he said. And there are more women in the classes. The average age in the academy's latest batch is 28; the oldest student is 47 and the youngest 21, he said.

Training has increased from 12 to 20 weeks, and courses range from constitutional and criminal law to self-defense techniques and report writing. In a sign of the times, a class on terrorism was added recently, Parsons said.

The 40 students in the June class have various backgrounds and experiences, and will scatter after graduation. But they are united in their dreams of becoming a cop.

Adam G. Goodfinger, a 32-year-old former granite salesman who said he has wanted to be a police officer since he was a youngster, will join the Sharon Police Department. Brandon Villarreal, also 32 and a former security guard whose first child is due in May, was hired by the Chelsea police force.

Christine R. Corn, 31, a former purchaser for a Norwood company, is one of three classmates who will become police officers in Randolph.

Meleski, 30, a Marine Corps veteran, is one of five in the class joining the Middleborough department. Of his ambition to be a policeman, he said, "I wanted something exciting every day, where every situation will be different, and it's not the same repetitious stuff."

Meleski is one of eight new officers hired over the past year in Middleborough, said Police Chief Gary J. Russell. Only 11 of 30 officers are still on the force from when Russell started five years ago, the chief said.

Dedham Police Chief Dennis J. Teehan added six officers over the past year to his 60-member force, after not hiring anyone for about a year and half, partly because of budget reasons.

He said he hopes to add two more officers in September. But the chief himself is retiring this year, at age 54. "After 30 years, change can be healthy," he said.

In Quincy, Police Chief Robert F. Crowley is in the process of hiring nine officers, and said he hopes to add 17 more soon. That's a lot of new faces for the department, which has added a number of officers over the past few years, but only a few at a time.

"I can't remember having a class this large," Crowley said.

Retirements are the big reason, he said, claiming some 17 officers in the past year.

But the wave may have crested. Next year, Crowley said, he anticipates just two send-offs for Quincy cops hanging up their gun belts for the last time.

Matt Carroll can be reached at [email protected].

CLASS SNAPSHOP

A profile of the Weymouth Regional Police Academy's ninth session, due to wrap up June 24.

40 students

4 females

40 have high school diplomas

8 have associate's degrees

18 have bachelor's degrees

2 have master's degrees

SIDEBAR 2:

Replenishing the ranks

A number of area communities have added police officers recently, some due to improved municipal finances and some to fill openings caused by retirements.

CITY/Town Police hires
Braintree 12 over the past year; chief hopes to hire 6 more within year.
BROCKTON In process of hiring 18; at least 12 officers retired in past year.
Dedham 6 hired in past year; chief hopes to hire 2 more in September. At least 12 officers retired in past three years.
Freetown 2 hired in past year, after 2 retirements.
Holbrook 3 hired in past year due to retirements; chief wants 2 more within the next year.
Hull 2 hired in past year after retirements.
Kingston 2 hired; chief wants 2 more to cover retirements.
Mansfield 5 hired in past year to cover retirements. Mattapoisett Hiring 2 to cover 1 retirement, 1 opening.
Middleborough 8 hired or in academy, with 5 retirements in past year.
Milton 3 hired in past year to replace retirements; plans for 4 more within next year to cover retirements, transfers.
Plymouth 4 hired and 7 retired in past year; department seeking more officers.
Plympton Chief hopes to hire 2-3 over next year, citing town's growth.
QUINCY Hiring 9; chief wants 17 more.
Randolph 4 hired in the past year; chief plans 3 more within next year.
Scituate Chief hopes to hire 3 within year to cover retirements.
Sharon Hiring 2: 1 retirement, 1 transfer.
Stoughton Hiring 2 to cover retirements within the next year.
Walpole Chief hopes to add 3 officers within year: 1 to cover retirement, 1 for transfer, 1 new hire.
West Bridgewater 2 hired; chief wants 3 more within next year. Weymouth 5 hired in past year to cover retirements.
SOURCE: Local police departments
 

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Oh Yes!

Retire those sagging-fannied, gray-haired, pot-bellied, old farts and let some new, young blood onto the force.................................
:p
 
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