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HISTORY OF NORTHBRIDGE, MA POLICE DEPARTMENT
The Northbridge Police Department was established in 1920. Prior to this, police work was handled by elected constables.
Levi Walker, a land owner, became a constable in the Town of Northbridge in 1772. Mr. Walker had been constable of “The End”, an area that would become Northbridge, which was once a part of the Town of Uxbridge at the time.
Between 1920 and 1934 there were four Chiefs of Police.
Beginning in 1934, Chiefs lived in Town and knew the people:
- J. Albert Cullen (served on the force 1921-1954)
- Peter Buma (served on the force 1936-1956)
- Thomas J. Fitzgerald (served on the force 1938-1969)
- Leslie Wood (served on the force 1939-1973)
- Thomas J. Melia, Jr. (served on the force 1953-1988)
- Thomas J. Melia, III (served on the force 1969-2006)
- Walter J. Warchol (Chief of Police 2006 to present)
Between 1920 and 1988 many advancements were made. The department placed two way radios in the police cruisers, and the basement of the Town Hall was made into the police station. The old police teletype was replaced with a modern computer system. However, the biggest advancement came in 1988, when the police department moved from the Town Hall into a new police station on Hope Street.
On December 31, 1930 the police department lost its only officer killed in the line of duty. Officer John W. English was killed while doing traffic duty on Providence Road near what is known as Electric Pond. Officer English’s name is on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C. Still in existence today.
From 1988 to January 2006, Chief of Police, Thomas J. Melia III, continued making more improvements to the police department. Chief Melia created a Lieutenant’s position with the promotion of Sgt. Richard P. Lachapelle. Chief Melia also started a detective division with Sgt. Shawn P. Heney becoming Detective Sergeant. The department switched from revolvers to new semi-automatic pistols. During this time the department became computerized. This has been upgraded over the years through various funding grants. Computers were placed into cruisers in February 1998 and the booking camera was changed to a digital camera. The department also switched to civilian dispatchers in order to free up officers for the street. These dispatchers were trained in the E911 system aspects of dispatching. The department also became more active in theBlackstone Valley Drug Task Force and Community Policing through grants. The department trained two officers for theD.A.R.E. program, an educational program to help fight drug abuse and control violence. Under the Community Policing grants and with financial assistance from a local bank, the department bought two police bicycles and started bike patrols in various parts of town.
In April 2006, Chief Walter J. Warchol became the town’s eleventh police chief. The town was experiencing financial difficulties and the police department was downsized from 22 full-time police officers to 17 full-time police officers, reducing the police department to minimum staffing levels. The police department was forced to eliminate the School Resource Officer and a detective’s position.
There were several minor and major changes that happened within the police department in ensuing years. The police department transitioned from the old Ford Crown Victoria sedans to black and white SUVs to enhance the visibility of the cruisers throughout our community. The police department upgraded and replaced all cruiser and portable radios. The department also replaced old analog security cameras with new state of the art digital cameras and recording systems. In 2013, Dispatcher Lisa Gaylord created a police department Facebook page to keep the community better informed as to what is occurring in the community. In 2015, the police department began to dispatch for the fire department. The combined police/fire dispatch required the hiring of three additional full time E 9-1-1 call takers and also required the remodeling of the police station and police dispatch area to accommodate the additional staff and equipment.
Additionally, the police department upgraded all their firearms and equipped all cruisers with patrol rifles. Officers were also allowed to carry electronic control weapons better known as Tasers. Electronic control weapons are less lethal weapons that bridge the gap giving the police officer an additional option to use less lethal force prior to using deadly force in violent situations.
In 2014, with the restoration of our 19th officer, Chief Warchol was able to restore the School Resource Officer position which is vital to the safety of our school children. With increased school violence across the nation it is the School Resource Officer’s responsibility to be the liaison between the schools and the police department. All school personnel and students are instructed on how to respond to the threat of an active shooter using the principles of ALICE which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. Police department personnel constantly train on how to respond to an active shooter threat.
In 2008, Massachusetts decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and in 2012 legalized medical marijuana. In 2016 the State of Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana in the middle of a major nationwide opioid addiction crisis. Opioid overdose deaths increased dramatically in every community. Northbridge Police Officers began carrying Naloxone better known as Narcan which is a medication used to block the effects of opioids and reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. In 2018, as a result of the increasing number of calls involving opioid addiction, domestic/family abuse, and mental health issues, the police department partnered with Family Continuity a community health network to create the Blackstone Valley Connector. The Blackstone Valley Connector is a diversion service to address substance use, mental health and domestic violence.
Currently, the Northbridge Police Department consists of twenty full-time police officers, one full time administrative assistant to the Chief of Police, seven full-time police/fire dispatchers, and four part-time reserve police officers. The police staff includes the Chief of Police, one Lieutenant, and five sergeants including one detective sergeant, one detective and twelve police officers. The police department responds to approximately 23,000 calls for service each year
The police department strives to provide the best quality services to our community and improve the quality of life in Northbridge by adhering to the 6 Pillars of President Obama’s 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing which are: (1) Building Trust & Legitimacy, (2) Policy & Oversight, (3) Technology & Social Media, (4) Community Policing & Crime Reduction, (5) Training & Education, and (6) Officer Safety & Wellness.