The year was 1985 when Tom Clinger first arrived on Nantucket to take a job as a summer special police officer and met a young woman named Sheila who was working as a meter maid with the Nantucket Police Department.
The two hit it off, eventually got married, and Tom never left the island or the department. Neither did Sheila. The Clingers have worked together at the Nantucket Police Department for more than three decades, but on Sept. 9, they’ll be retiring together and both calling it a career.
“I’m feeling a little bit of everything, but it’s time,” Sheila said this week.
“I’m ready,” Tom said.
Between the two of them, the Clingers have worked nearly every job at the Nantucket Police Department. Sheila started in 1984 as a meter maid, and has since served as a dispatcher, office administrator, and records clerk. After getting his start as a summer special officer in 1985, Tom became a full-time patrol officer, then a patrol sergeant, a detective sergeant, and he will retire next month with the rank of detective lieutenant.
While pursuing their careers with NPD, the Clingers raised three daughters on the island - Ashley, Alexisse, and Kaitlyn - who grew up under the watchful eyes of the Clingers’ extended work family.
“Our kids grew up with the police family,” Sheila said. “There was always someone who knew them, and they knew it.”
The Clingers said they hope retirement will allow for more time with a new grandchild, along with other pursuits - travel, fishing and golf, to name a few.
Reflecting back on his years on the job, Tom said being a police officer on Nantucket can be harder than other places given the close-knit community and relationships he developed over the years with so many people on the island.
“You have to treat everyone the same,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s an individual who has a bad drug problem, to the richest person on Nantucket. There’s not carte blanche for anyone. If you stay neutral, down the middle, and treat everybody the same and treat everybody good, it comes back to help you in the long run. That’s truly what it’s all about. Here on nantucket, a police officer experiences every aspect of the job in a very short time. I know guys who have gone to big departments, and all they do is write tickets all day.”
The Clingers both said they were concerned about the future of the department given the challenges faced by new officers on Nantucket, specifically housing. The department is also in a transition, with numerous longtime officers retiring or moving on. The Clingers are joining other recent departures from NPD, including Sgt. Kevin Marshall (who is taking a job on the mainland) and John Muhr, who retired in January.
“We have a strong chief, which is good, but he’s going to be leaving soon,” Tom Clinger said of current NPD Chief Bill Pittman. “So the replacement is going to be huge for this island. I don’t know where that's going to be or where it’s going to go, but it will be a big part of the future and it’s coming up soon. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. The island isn’t getting smaller, the number of homes being built here, the summer population is crazy, the year-round population is way above the census that’s out there. So, things that were quiet in the winter aren’t quiet any longer. With the influx of new officers and current officers leaving, it’s tough to find recruits who want to stay here. The town has to figure something out.”