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Wrentham Police Chief James Anderson at his swearing-in ceremony in July. (Staff file photo by Tom Maguire)

WRENTHAM - New Police Chief James Anderson is on a mission to bring the local police department to the people.

Anderson has resurrected walking beats downtown, expanded bicycle patrols, and is planning the department's first motorcycle units in the spring.

And, in another entirely new program for the department, patrolmen are now interacting more with residents in neighborhoods, getting out of their cruisers and knocking on the doors of homes to improve relations and communication.

It's all part of an expansion of community policing, which Anderson views as a partnership with the public.

Anderson, 50, a town resident and native, had been a sergeant for about 20 years until becoming acting lieutenant last November. He took over as chief in July from longtime second-in command Richard Gillespie, who filled the chief's post late last year following Joseph Collamati's retirement after 13 years.

Anderson was the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officer for the past 17 years, having connected with hundreds of students and also gaining the respect of their parents. That local connection helps spark the chief's motivation toward community policing.

"Some of the best years of my professional career have been going to the schools. I met a lot of nice people, forged a lot of friendships," said Anderson, who noted former students still write him letters, call and even visit, and two of them are new part-time police officers.

"The school administration and staff treated me like one of their own," he said.

When the DARE program was still at the high school, Anderson in 1996 was named Officer of the Year by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for a drunken-driving segment he spearheaded.

A reorganization of the police department by Anderson has led to two sergeants, Michael Robillard and William McGrath, being appointed lieutenants - the first time the department has had two lieutenants. Both will take turns filling in for the chief when he is out.

"I'm trying to develop them so each will have an opportunity to take command," Anderson said.

Also, there is a new sergeant, longtime patrolman Jeff Smith, who replaces Robillard. Smith also has been active for many years in the DARE program and will now take the place of Anderson supervising and teaching the program.

Part of enhancing relations with the public, surveys of the police department are circulating in town. Copies are available at town hall.

Anderson also is working toward the department being accredited by a law enforcement commission that involves a multi-year, self-evaluation. Only 17 departments in the state are accredited.

And there has been the usual police work, including a few sexual assaults being investigated, drug raids of two houses in August, and a double fatal car accident on Route 1 this summer, the chief said.

"It seems to be going very smooth. I think he is doing a fantastic job," Selectmen Chairwoman Mary Dunn said of Anderson.

Town Administrator Jack McFeeley added: "I am very pleased with his work and his enthusiasm for the job. He is certainly proving that he was the best person for the job."

Gillespie, a longtime sergeant and the department's first lieutenant, has reached retirement age and retired when Anderson officially took over, but oriented Anderson to the job of chief in the months before. "He made the transition go very smoothly," Anderson said.

"The biggest challenge is rebuilding the department" that has seen positions cut due to financial constraints, Anderson said. "I have had a lot of support from the town, board of selectmen, and the guys in the department have been great."

A 1976 graduate of King Philip Regional High School, Anderson explained his interest in police work led to him majoring in criminal justice in college. He was a patrolman for four years, including 2 1/2 years in Dover, N.H., before becoming a sergeant, and was a finalist for chief in 1994.

Anderson attended the FBI National Academy in 1998 for a three-month law enforcement executive program that he describes as "very beneficial" and which has provided him with "invaluable contacts."

"It is very enjoyable," Anderson said of police work. "It was a natural process to want to finish my career as chief. I have had a great career."

Anderson has three sons, two in college, a sister who retired from the U.S. Customs Service, and a brother who is a deputy prison superintendent in Concord.
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