Lt. Eerik Meisner returns to a familiar beat

Lieutenant Eerik Meisner is the newest addition to the Tisbury police force. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Almost 20 years ago, Eerik Meisner left the Tisbury Police Department, (TPD) where he was a temporary patrolman, for a job in Florida. But he always knew he wanted to return to Martha’s Vineyard someday. Last July, he made his comeback, returning as a new lieutenant, the second in command under Chief Dan Hanavan.

“My ultimate goal had always been to come back to Martha’s Vineyard,” Lt. Meisner told The Times in an interview in his office a few weeks ago. “Unfortunately, the shutting down of the Space Shuttle program kind of depressed the economy in Florida, so there were a lot of issues with pensions and salary. And when this opportunity in Tisbury presented itself, it was kind of a simple mathematical equation.”

Asked what he thinks has changed most at the TPD since he left, Lt. Meisner (pronounced Maze-ner) said what he noticed most is what hasn’t changed.

“Actually, it stayed very similar,” he explained. “There has been been a little bit of a personnel changeover, but a lot of the people are still here from when I was a special. The Island is busier now, though, and the season seems to have extended out considerably.”

Although Lt. Meisner spent the last 18 years working full-time for the Titusville, Fla., police department, his roots are firmly planted on Martha’s Vineyard. He grew up in Edgartown and graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 1988.

While attending Clark University in Worcester, he got his first taste of law enforcement working part-time at the Dukes County jail in 1989. He started as a special officer in the TPD in the summer of 1991, and broadened his experience over the next two summers as a special in the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown police departments.

“I was a special in three towns for one summer,” Lt. Meisner recalled. “I would do the evening shifts here, then drive across the bridge and do midnights in Oak Bluffs, and then the two days that I had off, I would work in Edgartown, walking up and down Main Street.”

Although he hadn’t been to Florida before, he attended the police academy in Melbourne, Florida, in the winter of 1993. After graduation he returned to Tisbury to work as a special officer, before being hired by the Titusville Police Department in 1995. He earned the rank of sergeant over his 18-year career there.

“The SWAT team I ran down there was bigger than this agency,” Lt. Meisner said. “I had 12 people working for me.”

He also worked three years as a school resource officer at Titusville High School, which had an enrollment of more than 2,100 students.

Lt. Meisner said he received top-notch training in Florida that prepared him very well for what he would deal with. “Hopefully I can bring some of that experience and disseminate it to folks here,” he said.

Although Titusville’s population is around 50,000 and Tisbury’s around 4,350, Lt. Meisner said the two police departments share some similarities. But what differs most is the workload.

“Here, you can go for a day with maybe one or two, maybe three calls for service, where that’s your first hour in Florida,” he said. “You get in the car in Florida and there are calls waiting for you before you even leave the gate. And then it goes all night and all day like that.”

“It’s nice to have a different pace — that’s a benefit,” he added.

He describes his job as a lieutenant as a cross between administration and supervision. In addition to assisting Chief Hanavan with administrative duties, Lt. Meisner also supervises officers out in the field, and he goes out on calls. He can be spotted most mornings working as a crossing guard on West Spring Street at the back of Tisbury School.

“He’s a good addition to the department,” Chief Hanavan said of Lt. Meisner in a recent phone conversation with The Times. “I think he’s doing a great job. He’s very personable and likes going out and meeting members of the community, and also deals well with the officers and sergeants.”

Because he arrived at the height of the Island’s busy summer season, Lt. Meisner said he hasn’t made many changes yet. However, one of the recommendations he made that already was put into practice that has been noticed by many in the community is higher visibility.

“I spoke with the Chief, and we determined there needed to be more visibility on the street,” he said. “Everybody is now assigned to go up to Main Street twice a day to do some foot patrol and be visible in the community. If you’ve noticed that, then it’s working.”

Lt. Meisner said that is one aspect of his new job that he especially appreciates.

“Where I was working in Florida, it was very difficult,” he said. “You don’t have time to do that because you’re answering calls for service constantly. Plus in some neighborhoods you wouldn’t want to walk there. Here, you can get out and walk around and say hi to people. Down there, you might get shot at.”

Lt. Meisner said he has also been working on improving accountability in the department, through better organization.

“We’ve got numerous policies and procedures we’re going to streamline,” he said. “Chief Hanavan started that, and we’re going to continue. You want to have an agency that follows the best practices in law enforcement.”

As for future goals, Lt. Meisner said he wants to expand the department’s services within the community.

“One project we’re working on is getting a bloodhound,” he said. “It would allow us to search for missing people, kids, elderly, which is the primary goal of it. The dog also would help with tracking fugitives, if that came up.”

Lt. Meisner said the department applied for a community initiative grant from the state and will find out in February if it will receive the funds, and if not, will have to come up with alternative funding.

“The grant program’s purpose is to fund a service not currently available in the community, and to my knowledge, there is no tracking or search and rescue dog in a police department on the Island,” he said.

Lt. Meisner said he opted for a bloodhound based on his experience. “Having worked in Florida, and seeing different dogs and how they work in different conditions, I saw that a typical work dog has a limited distance and time they can operate,” he explained. “But a bloodhound can go on for numerous hours.”

Lt. Meiser said he and Chief Hanavan are also working on staffing. Over the last few months, Chief Hanavan, with the approval of selectmen, hired a full-time police officer to fill an existing vacancy and hired two part-time special officers to help cover shifts as needed.

“We’re hiring professional police officers who are already trained and have experience,” he said.

Although Lt. Meisner was happy to return to the Vineyard, it meant having to leave his wife Dorothea behind, but only temporarily. A field training officer for the city of Coco Police Department, she has a year and a half left to work before she is eligible for retirement and can join him on the Island. The couple has two grown children. His stepson Mike Burnett is currently deployed with the U.S. Navy, and his stepdaughter Erin Kahn lives with her husband, Dan, a lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard, in Astoria, Oregon.

Asked if he enjoys being back in Tisbury, Lt. Meisner said, “I like the community; I always have.” And he added with a smile, “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have come back.”