Tisbury police officers lead a double life
Officers Rachael (left) and Kelly Buckley side by side as shifts change on a Sunday afternoon. Photos by Ralph Stewart
Seeing Kelly and Rachael Buckley together in uniform may have made some people think twice about committing a crime in Tisbury over the summer. Kelly, a full-time officer, and Rachael, a special officer, share not only their bonds as 23-year-old identical twins, but also their share a professional interest in law enforcement.
Although Rachael worked from 8 am to 4 pm and Kelly from midnight to 8 am, they occasionally worked the same shift and responded to the same call.
"People do a double-take. They ask, are you twins?" said Kelly. "And we say, that's right - you're surrounded!"
Although they admit to typical sibling friction, Rachael said, "No matter how much we fight, when we're in a patrol car together, I don't think of her as my sister. I think of her as my partner, my back-up."
On any given summer day, Vineyard Haven residents might have spotted Rachael making her rounds on foot on Main Street. "I like how I can walk through the Stop & Shop, and I know everybody, at least by face if not by name. It's not just the bad people, either!" she said.
Special Officer Rachael Buckley heads out on patrol in Tisbury.
Rachael also supervised the Steamship Authority area and said what she disliked most was hearing from tourists who were parked illegally, "I'm not parked here - I'm just standing." From Islanders, she said the usual excuse for driving or parking infractions is, "But I live here!"
In addition to walking her beat, Rachael answered calls for service, responded to ambulance calls, and supervised traffic officers. Although her job was considered part-time, she worked over 40 hours a week since April.
In contrast, Kelly said this past summer was exceptionally quiet on the night shift. "You have to be a little more proactive than just sitting around and waiting for calls," Kelly said. Most of her calls involve OUI enforcement, response to fire or burglar alarms, and noise complaints. What she likes about her job is, "It can be different at any time. You're always basically on call for whatever is going to happen."
Being a female police officer can sometimes be an advantage, Rachael said, such as in domestic situations where the presence of a female police officer seems to help defuse the anger.
Kelly agreed. "Some people will open up to a female better, whether it is another female or even some males." However, she added, "People size me up all the time. I'm small and I'm young, and a lot of people think I'm not really a cop to them. You have to be assertive and prove them otherwise." Neither has ever had to use her gun.
Both women said they do not let their profession bother them. "I do my job and learn from it, and then forget about it when I go home at the end of the day," said Rachael. "You have to let it go."
Kelly said they expect to deal with rude people as part of their job and know they cannot be thin-skinned. "The majority of us truly want to work as police officers and wouldn't do anything else. It's kind of in your blood. It's what you want to do."
There must be something to her observation, as Rachael remembers wanting to be a police officer at age five. Her grandmother, however, tried to talk her out of it. Although the twins were born in Gainesville, Fla., they developed their Island ties through their grandparents, summering with them in Vineyard Haven every year from the time they were four.
Kelly and Rachael came to live with their grandparents when they were sophomores in high school, and graduated from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. It was during those years, Kelly recalled, that she and her sister really cultivated their interest in police work.
Instead of idle conversation with other teenagers on the Oak Bluffs summer scene, Rachael said, "Me and my sister used to hang out on Circuit Avenue and grill the cops about their jobs, school, and becoming a police officer."
Their advice proved helpful. "The Oak Bluffs guys had recommended working your way up the ladder by getting your foot in the door with a traffic job, to prove you are a good worker," said Kelly.
The two did just that, starting out as summer traffic officers in Tisbury. Rachael led the way at age 19 as a traffic officer during the summer of 2001. She then completed training to become a reserve/intermittent police officer and was hired as a special officer in Tisbury in 2002.
By the time Kelly became a traffic officer in the summer of 2002, she and her partner, JT Kershaw, were parents of a five-month-old son, Joseph. Instead of taking Rachael's route to become a part-time reserve officer, Kelly opted to apply to the police academy instead.
The 800-hour, 20-week academy program costs $2,300, and is too demanding for recruits to also hold a job while attending. Kelly figured she had to save about $12,000 to $14,000 to cover not only the cost of the program, but the loss of her salary as well as commuting and living expenses.
"I paid for it by working road details, at least three days a week," Kelly explained. "It was horrible, 11-hour details. Basically, any detail that was offered to me, I took, and just saved, saved, saved."
She lived in Mansfield with her father while attending the academy in Weymouth, heading home to her family on the Vineyard on weekends. After graduating from the academy in March 2004, she worked part-time in Tisbury until August, when she became the department's first full-time female officer in several years.
Although Rachael would like to attend the police academy, the finances daunt her. She served in the Army for nine months in 2004, but a knee injury resulted in a medical discharge. Last winter, she completed emergency medical training. "I like helping people," she said. "I want to go out and make a difference." However, while she remains in Tisbury as a special officer, she said, "I feel like I am treading water here.'"
All of that changed a few weeks ago, when she headed off to Mansfield to live with her Dad while attending Massasoit Community College. She has only two classes left to complete for her associate's degree and hopes to attend the University of Miami next spring, majoring in criminal justice.
With Rachael's departure, Kelly will not be losing a sister but gaining a couch in the two-bedroom cottage they share. When Joseph was born, Rachael said she offered to give up her bedroom and sleep on the couch in the living room, assuming her sister and family would soon move out into a place of their own.
That was three years ago. Kelly and JT, who works for Bennett Electric, are members of the Cozy Hearth affordable housing project. They have been waiting through the project's lengthy approval process before they can build a home.
Although the sisters admit they bicker, Rachael said, "It's not because we're twins - it's because we're together so much."
Kelly thinks their separation may have some positive results. "It will probably be good for us to get away from each other. If we follow our different callings and routes, it will ultimately make us happier," she said.