Celebrating Chief Toomey

Upwards of 200 friends, family members, and fans listened as Cynthia Mitchell recalled the hiring process that led to Beth Toomey becoming the first female police chief on the Cape and Islands. — File photo by Susan Safford

On Saturday night, about 200 community members, friends, and colleagues gathered at the Agricultural Hall to thank Beth Toomey for her work as the police chief of West Tisbury and to celebrate her retirement from police work.

Caterers provided a raw bar, soups, and an impressive array of finger food. When people had eaten nearly their fill, the formal presentations began. After town officials, friends, and colleagues offered reminiscences and presented plaques recognizing her work, Chief Toomey offered up a PowerPoint autobiography that started with her childhood and continued through her years in West Tisbury. She thanked her fellow police officers and many others. And then Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish took the stage, and the dancing began.

Chief Toomey came to West Tisbury from the Northborough police department in 1994 with her husband and five children. She was the first female police chief on the Cape and Islands, and she became the longest-running female police chief in the state of Massachusetts.

On Saturday evening, selectman Cynthia Mitchell shared memories of the selection process which led to Chief Toomey’s hiring. She and the other members of the selection committee were impressed by Ms. Toomey’s candor, honesty, and commitment. Ms. Mitchell said, “On one of her official interview days, the selectmen took Beth Toomey to lunch at the Black Dog. At some point well into the conversation, she paused and said: ‘I have to ask you a question, and I hope you won’t be offended. Do I really have a shot, or is this whole process just for show?'” Ms. Mitchell says that many people in town wondered the same thing.

“After a very long, 16-hour meeting,” Ms. Mitchell recalled, “with very few words, we let each other know: It was unanimous. We had our girl, our Chief.”

Others were impressed with the way she reached out to the community from the very beginning. Ann Wallace was the director of Women’s Support Services at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services when Beth Toomey was a candidate for George Manter’s old job. “What was so unusual was that before she was even appointed she called to see what services were available on the Island,” Ms. Wallace said. In later years, Chief Toomey led one of the first training sessions on same-sex domestic violence.

Although the selection committee and many Islanders welcomed her from the beginning, Chief Toomey didn’t always enjoy universal popularity. “I heard a lot of bad things about Beth when she first got here — there was a lot of bad-mouthing,” George Hartman said. “But I got along with her from day one. I knew she was going to be great, and she has proved it over the years. She also had big shoes to fill,” he added, referring to her predecessor, George Manter, who had been an iconic figure in the town for many years.

Anna Alley was another early admirer of Chief Toomey. “She was an all-around person,” Ms. Alley said. “She’s done a great job, everything that we were hoping she would do.”

Dan Rossi, now acting chief of the West Tisbury police department, also recalled Chief Toomey’s arrival. “Sixteen years ago she walked in the door and met all us guys,” he said. “She taught each and every one of us things that would be useful to us for the rest of our careers, and she was just an all-around good boss.”

But Chief Toomey said that it wasn’t all clear sailing from the start. “My first day here,” she said, “I walked into the station and no one was there. Then the bathroom ceiling fell down. The station had a few structural issues.” The police headquarters was moved temporarily to the old library building on Music Street while the Mill Pond station was renovated. Meanwhile, the department got its first computer, and later, Chief Toomey helped establish the regional computer-aided dispatch and records management system.

Helping the police embrace changing technology was only a small facet of Chief Toomey’s contribution to the police department and the Island community. “She was an advocate for sending people off [Island] for continuing training, which is key for today’s law enforcement,” Mr. Rossi said.

She was also more accessible than many police chiefs. Laura Marshard, assistant district attorney, began her work at the Dukes County Courthouse in 2004, a decade after Chief Toomey came to West Tisbury. “She was a great resource for me when I came,” Ms. Marshard said. “I had worked with police chiefs in Denver and Boston, and as a police chief, Beth is unique. She brings an unusual mix of accessibility, warmth, and kindness. She’s accessible to the entire Island community, not just West Tisbury. I’m struck by how many people seek her out for counseling in a variety of areas, including substance abuse and domestic violence. She makes herself available. She’s been a role model and a source of strength, and it’s been a pleasure knowing her professionally and personally.”

While Chief Toomey’s 27-year career with the police was rewarding, it was also very demanding. “I worked, on average, 80 hours a week,” she said. “On my last three weeks, I took vacation days, and I wound up working every day.” Since her official retirement party, she is sleeping better than she has in years, she said.

Chief Toomey plans to continue to live and work on the Vineyard. She has bought High Haven House, a small inn on Summer Street in Vineyard Haven, and Vineyard Limousine, both of which she will be running with her sons Danyon and Christopher Russell. She’s been asked to be on many boards and committees, and will continue to work in the community on addiction and substance abuse issues and counseling.

Although she’s retiring from her position as police chief, Beth Toomey plans to go on working and contributing to this community for years to come.