Chris Perry Column: Do You Know Who I Am?

Chris Perry •

IMG 2084

They have hit the downtown streets running with their hands writing quicker than Spanky used to open a quahog.

Immediately after completing their mission, they hear every possible excuse from the “innocent victim” who routinely seems to be suffering from amnesia.

If unable to sway the Community Service Officer (CSO), then the bluster continues:

“You don’t know who I am but I know Chief Pittman!”

“I know Melinda Burns!”

“I know the Mayor!”

The only problem is that Nantucket doesn’t have a Mayor.

Welcome to the world of the CSOs who have descended upon Nantucket with gusto.

With most current CSOs hailing from MA and looking to pursue a career in law enforcement, this year’s crop is “highly competitive and particularly strong” according to Officer Jerry Mack who oversees the program along with Sgt. John Rockett.

“I was a senior at Nantucket High School in 1988 and remember watching the ‘summer specials’ in action,” said Officer Mack.

“I think the program has been around for about 40 years. First, there were about 10, then 20, now we are upwards of 40 CSOs,” added Mack who was a summer special officer 30 years ago.

Outside of the numbers today, Chief Pittman made the biggest change to the program when he removed arresting privileges from the summer specials. Since then, the CSOs daily shift program has expanded to include five officers on ATVs patrolling the beaches, one officer at the airport, one at the substation in town, one officer at the main station helping secure permits, a handful riding bikes including one in Sconset with the remaining CSOs walking the downtown beat.

Between handling the vehicular and pedestrian traffic - especially when the Hy-Line pulls in - and writing parking tickets, it’s a full day for the CSOs like Olivia Kerphart, Nathanial Vega, Sam “Price Tag” Purchase and Alexandre Joadane who comes to Nantucket by way of Haiti.

“During our orientation, we were briefed about the crowds especially the July vs August crowds”, mentioned CSO Mike Lucey from Wakefield, MA. “A day doesn’t go by that we don’t get yelled at by someone after writing a ticket even though they know they are guilty.”

IMG 2003

“It never ceases to amaze me how low people will go to avoid a $25 fine. Regularly, the CSOs are subjected to verbal abuse - borderline physical abuse - for a simple parking violation”, lamented Officer Mack.

“If you know the Chief or the ‘Mayor’, go see Melinda on Wednesday afternoon at the station to dispute the ticket and see what she says. With a picture of your car parked directly in front of a No Parking sign, I doubt she is going to be very sympathetic,” Mack added with a serious, straight face.

The 40 CSOs came to us in early June and will spend the next 6 to 8 weeks learning through first-hand experiences. With the majority of the candidates heading back to school by the end of the summer, a talented few do remain on-island to continue with their training and hopefully matriculate into being full-time members of the Nantucket Police Department.

The numbers don’t lie. Presently, approximately 30 members of Nantucket’s police force or administration are successful “graduates“ of the summer special or CSO program. With long-term retention rates low for the NPD due to the obvious reasons that face every department on Nantucket, having an opportunity to get potential officers local, on-the-job training is particularly helpful.

Furthermore, in addition to working on Nantucket, dozens of other CSO participants have successfully secured positions in everything from the F.B.I., C.I.A. and D.E.A., to the border patrol, diplomatic services and all branches of the military. Additionally, Nantucket is proud to include Chief Matt Stone in Holliston, Chief Ryan Newel in Sothboro, Chief John Schlitler in Needham and Sergeant Greg Furtado of the MA State Police Cape & Islands Detective Unit - brother of current Nantucket Officer Dan Furtado - as graduates.

But today’s CSOs on Nantucket face a different environment. Frankly, the boorish summer behavior of far too many jackasses who try to show off by verbally harassing an innocent college student working as a CSO over a parking ticket pales in comparison to what inevitably awaits them on Nantucket. Just in the past few weeks, two machete attacks were reported; however, both got far less attention than a car accident on Madaket Road or the Sea Nash running over an anchor chain in the harbor.

IMG 2014

Why is that?

Recently, there has been a constant string of vehicular break-ins. Opioid and alcohol-related crimes are on the increase. Breaking and entering, assaults, and domestic violence incidents appear to take a backseat during the summer to sophomoric public intoxication cases that dominate our social media every weekend.

Why is that?

“When I first became a police officer, I wanted to be part of a murder investigation and be part of a team that seized a large quantity of illegal drugs. I have done both on Nantucket. Right now and in this climate, anything is possible on Nantucket”, Officer Mack said with some reservation.

“Just last week, someone was shot on Main Street in Hyannis. What’s separating us from that is only 30 miles of water. It’s coming. With the increase in opiate use and alcohol abuse, the potential of violent crime increasing on Nantucket is real. We need help and step one is acknowledging the problem”.

Nantucket is not immune to what’s going on out there.

If you ask CSO Jake Martin from Bridgewater, MA, or Kelly Mayette from Glenville, NY or Divnitri Gaitanidis from Worcester, MA, they probably aren’t aware of what Officer Mack did in his first 10 years on Nantucket. Naively, I bet they thought the worst thing that could happen on Nantucket this summer would be Chad and Becky and their friends getting out of control outside the Gazebo or a traffic accident between a taxi and Uber driver at the intersection of Straight Wharf, Main Street and New Whale Street bringing traffic to a halt as the Hy-Line pulls into dock.

But, there’s more to the story. Nantucket is vulnerable; and unless we do something about it, our 30 miles of ocean buffer will get smaller and smaller with each passing day.

Is the CSO program perfect?

Absolutely not. With any training program that involves inexperienced candidates, inevitably you are going to have issues.

Nevertheless, I love the CSO program. I think it does a world of good when the CSOs are posted downtown and are interacting with the public and local merchants. I love having officers riding their bikes around Town and Sconset because it sends an incredibly healthy message. I am grateful that our beaches are patrolled. I smile when I see the unpretentious and trusting looks on the CSOs’ faces as they walk up Main Street just as much in awe of the historic, downtown beauty of Nantucket as a first-time, day tripper from the midwest.

And yes, I have to admit that there’s something satisfying to me when I see the CSO’s penmanship on display especially when someone is parked in a handicap space and the size of the SUV rivals that of Millie’s food truck. I love to see the parking tickets pile up and I encourage and applaud their efforts even though I know that I am good for at least one ticket this summer as a guilty party properly charged for exceeding the posted 30-minute zone.

But for those of you who want to whine about the CSOs’ skilled ticket-writing habits or their inability to comprehend why four straight hours parked in a 1 hour zone is “OK because I work here” - then, step off and go find MacVicar, Mack or Rockett because that’s an “argument” I would pay to see.

Until that happens, what I appreciate the most about the CSO program is the simple fact that they represent the innocence of law and order. In a world that seems to be sorely lacking enough of that, we need more - not less of a police presence because the negative consequences are starting to bubble to the surface even on Nantucket.

Loading Ad
Loading Ad
Loading Ad

Current Opinion