Essay: Community remains the cornerstone of Edgartown policing effort

Edgartown Police Chief Antone "Tony" Bettencourt.
Photo courtesy of Edgartown Police Department

Edgartown Police Chief Antone "Tony" Bettencourt.

While it is difficult to anticipate what 2012 will bring, community oriented policing is, and will remain, the cornerstone of the Edgartown Police Department and its success.

It begins with a strong directive from elected and appointed leaders. The main focus of our agency is to provide effective, courteous service to those we serve.

Community policing takes many forms. It begins with officers interacting within the community on a variety of levels. Perhaps coaching a sporting event, serving on a volunteer town board, fundraising for special events and programs, or simply just being a parent who takes his or her children out for ice cream.

Being a police officer on the Island can be rewarding and also extremely difficult. Helping people you know or grew up with on a regular basis is satisfying and rewarding. On the other hand, interacting with friends and even family members during tragic events can be disheartening and stressful for an officer.

On a daily basis, you will see officers walking on town streets, on and off duty. The majority of my officers grew up on the Island. They have children in our schools. They are members of Island boards and organizations that directly affect the residents of Martha’s Vineyard. They personally care about the quality of life we all live and our goal is to provide a safe and secure community for residents, their families and all Island visitors.

In 2011, my department worked closely with the Youth Task Force to combat underage drinking. From the beaches to the liquor stores and bars, we made our presence known.

The overall goal has always been to enforce the underage drinking laws, educate minors, and the employees who sell and serve alcoholic beverages in our town. It is greatly important that parents are involved in this effort and support our actions. I’d like to think because of this effort we might have saved a life.

One of our greatest policing challenges this year involved prescription drugs. As residents know, from the many news articles, these drugs are a common burden on the Island community. The use and sale of illicit and prescription drugs ties to several different types of crime.

Illegal drug use is connected to the breaking and entering of homes. Our major resource in combating this problem is the community. We continue to ask that homeowners keep a watchful eye out for anything out of the ordinary in their neighborhoods and throughout town.

A related event was the Island’s “drug take-back” initiative. Held in conjunction with all Island police departments and the Drug Enforcement Administration, it was one of our most successful public outreach programs.

Members of the community were asked to hand in their old prescription medications for disposal. The purpose was to remove medications highly susceptible to diversion, misuse, and abuse. The response was overwhelming and showed a specific need to make this an annual event. In fact, I am in the process of working with the health agent to have a permanent drop off box at the police station open 365 days a year.

Veteran officers David Rossi and Stephanie Immelt were assigned to the Edgartown School as School Resource Officers (SRO). SROs operate as liaisons between the students, teachers and the community. The officers have built a comfortable and positive relationship with students and school faculty. As a result, the program has fostered positive community bonds for the present and for the future.

Officer William Bishop and the Patrolmen’s Association and Fire Department treated more than 30 senior citizens to a lunch and tour of the police and fire stations. Officers cooked, served lunch and had great conversations with everyone. This event gave most of them their first look inside the stations and a look at policing in 2011. In addition, officers join the staff at the Council on Aging in cooking a monthly men’s breakfast where we continue to provide a sense of security and friendship.

In 2011, our department participated in some new and exciting events, along with some time honored traditions. In June, Edgartown hosted its very own Bruins Stanley Cup victory parade. The storied trophy was carried through town and placed at the foot of Main Street. This was followed by a viewing that was open to the Island public at the Edgartown School. Scheduling and overall security was a challenge; however members of the department were happy to be part of this exciting historical event.

The ferry boats were full for another Fourth of July celebration. Crowds gathered for Edgartown’s annual parade. Again this year, it remained a family fun, problem-free event. The First Family’s summer visit, which included stops in Edgartown, was once again a major success.

Changes were made to the rank structure, after I was appointed chief. Officers Craig Edwards, Jonathan Searle, Thomas Smith, and Christopher Dolby, all graduates of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, were promoted to sergeant. Over the year, these officers have excelled in the command positions. They are proven leaders in our department and in the community. After many years of employment as special officers, we added Alex Elias, Nicholas Phelps, and Dayce Moore to the full-time patrol staff. These officers have frequently demonstrated they are true assets to the department and community.

What will 2012 bring? One thing that comes to mind is our commitment to pursue and prosecute those who violate drug laws. Over my 28 years of service to Edgartown, I have seen so many changes in drug activity. From cocaine and marijuana, to crack cocaine and now the misuse of prescription pills. Our officers take it personally when residents’ homes are destroyed, vandalized, and burglarized simply to feed a drug habit.

We will continue our relationships with school children to seniors and strive to provide a safe community for all who visit. We will remain approachable and diligent and, best of all, parents to our own children and friends to all who read this.

Thank you and have a safe New Year’s Eve and 2012.