New Nantucket Police Chief Getting To Know Her Department And The Island

Jason Graziadei •

Nantucket Police Department Chief Jody Kasper. Photo by Kit Noble

The job first came to Jody Kasper’s attention in mid-2023, when she saw a posting by the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association about the Nantucket Police Department.

After nearly 20 years with Bill Pittman as Nantucket’s top cop, the island was searching for his replacement as he was up against the state’s mandatory retirement age. And Kasper just happened to be looking for a change herself.

Kasper had spent the past 25 years with the Northampton Police Department in western Massachusetts, including the last nine as chief. She was intrigued about the job and the prospect of a new start in a different community. But she had never been to Nantucket before and knew very little about the island.

Just months later, Kasper would be named Nantucket’s new chief of police, beating out more than 40 other candidates for the job and becoming the department’s first female chief. She had done her research - paying a visit to the island so she could learn more before even applying for the job - and it became clear it was the right move for her and her family.

“I had never been to Nantucket,” Kasper said. “So when the job was posted, we came out to the island and started making every effort to learn about Nantucket in different ways. I mean, visiting an island is one thing, but really it was the importance of learning about how government works and learning about the department, about the town, and the concerns of people in the town. So that's what I spent time doing prior to coming here.

“I thought that it would be a great fit,” she added. “My wife is from Yarmouth. That's where she grew up. So we come out to the Cape quite a bit. And I think we were ready to relocate. We were excited about exploring new opportunities. I had been with Northampton for a long time. So the position came up, and it seemed like a great fit.”

Since arriving in early January and starting in her new position, Kasper said she’s continued the learning process about the island, the department, and the nearly 40 police officers now under her command. That process has included dozens of meetings with her staff, town officials, community groups, and the press, along with getting out into the community for events and immersing herself into the island’s offseason.

What can the community expect from Kasper as police chief?

“They can expect visibility,” she emphasized. “I've always been very visible in my communities. Even when I was in Northampton as chief of police, I still went out and walked around downtown and chatted with people. I like to know what's going on, what challenges there are for business owners, for residents. I go to a lot of community meetings, and I listen to people talk to me about concerns, issues, and questions they have. So I've always been that kind of chief. I expect to be that way here as well. So they can certainly expect that. Other than that, I just bring a lot of experience and a different perspective to the department and to the island.”

Photo by Kit Noble

She also intends for the Nantucket Police Department to continue collaborating with community groups, organizations, and other agencies to serve the island community effectively.

“I'm really just listening to a lot of people,” Kasper added. “I'm learning about the operations, the department, the administration, and trying to wrap my head around how things are operating here. So that's the space that I'm in right now is taking the time to do that. I'm really impressed with the officers, the caliber of officers who apply here and who work for NPD.”

Kasper’s wife, a longtime school guidance counselor, is now working in the Nantucket Public Schools, while her teenage son is off to college. The family will be residing in a town-owned housing unit that was part of the compensation package offered to the incoming chief of police candidates.

The housing offer from the town was among the deciding factors that helped Kasper feel comfortable taking the job, and the island’s housing crisis is among the first major issues she learned about in her first few months on Nantucket. It’s an issue, she said, that impacts her department greatly, along with every business and organization on Nantucket.

“I don't think I would have taken the job without housing only because in my role, the way that I do this job is being out in the community,” Kasper said. “And not just right now during the day, in my eight or 10 hours a day, but it's my weekends, it's my evenings. I'm out in the community as well. So whether it's going on walks led by guides, which I'm excited to do this weekend, or going to basketball games or hockey games, or going out to dinner, whatever we're doing, that's being part of a community and I very much I think it's important for police officers and a police chief in particular to be part of a community that they're serving. And I did not know if I could get housing here that was secure. I looked at rental prices and the instability of housing, I looked at purchase prices, which were not attainable for me. And then I considered, you can't live off-island, right? That doesn't work. And so housing was very, very important in my consideration of taking the job because I want to be able to be here, know that that is settled, and then be focused on the work we do and be able to really engage with the community.”

Kasper said she was certainly cognizant of the fact that she is Nantucket’s first female chief of police - a distinction she also held in Northampton - but emphasized that gender has not been something she spent a lot of time thinking about during her career in law enforcement and her rise to the top of now two departments.

“I'm proud of being a chief of police, regardless of my gender,” Kasper said. “I think rising to the top of police organizations is hard. And so I feel proud of that. I'm very humbled and honored to have been selected here as well. It's a lot of trust that the community has placed in me. But I don't think about gender too much. I do understand the importance of representation to see women, especially in non-traditional careers that are moving through the ranks, leading organizations. So I think that's very important. Over time, since I became chief in Northampton in 2015, I've gotten a lot more involved in speaking on this issue. I'm much more involved in the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, that is a national organization, and there's a Massachusetts organization, and I'm more involved in that…I think it's very important for everybody, men and women, to see women leaders and to see a pathway for success for women in any non-traditional field.”

Kasper was surprised to discover that the Nantucket Police Department was already leading the way in that area, with more than 30 percent of its patrol officers being female. The national average, she said, is about 12 percent.

“That’s incredibly rare to find a police department with 30 percent representation of women,” she said.

Kasper grew up in western Massachusetts, attending Mohawk Trail Regional High School in Shelburne Falls, and later Greenfield Community College and Westfield State University. Asked about how she got her start in law enforcement, Kasper emphasized that it wasn’t some dramatic life event that led to her career choice, but rather a chat with her high school guidance counselor.

“Many people that I’ve talked to say ‘Oh, I've wanted to be a police officer since I was a little kid,’ but that was not the case for me,” Kasper said. “For me, I was in high school, I sat down with my high school guidance counselor and said, ‘I don't really know what I want to do.’ And she put a college course catalog in front of me and said, ‘Well, what classes are you interested in?’ And I looked through them, and I was attracted to criminal justice classes. So I went to college for criminal justice. And really, in my first year of studying criminal justice, I knew that would be a good career path for me.”

After more than two decades in law enforcement, Kasper said she is bringing many of the lessons learned in Northampton to her new role on Nantucket, especially a collaborative approach to addressing many of the problems the police department is asked to resolve.

“When you look at the challenges that officers are facing, the types of calls they are going on, it has become abundantly clear over maybe the last five to seven years that the problems that we are sent to to help people with require collaborative efforts from other community entities,” Kasper said. “So whether it's addiction or mental health or homelessness, a lot of times I think, historically, police officers have been called to deal with those situations. But those problems are extremely complex and it took decades for the person, probably, to get into the situation that they're in, a challenging situation. And it takes a lot of time, energy, and effort to get them out of that situation and to help them properly. So, to me, that's really what I've seen change over the years. When I started, I think it was just all on the police to go deal with these situations. And we didn't have all the tools that we needed to do that. So what I've seen over time is a lot more collaboration with other community entities which definitely Nantucket has in place as well. I've met with them now - Fairwinds and A Safe Place and The Warming Place - all those sorts of entities that work together, along with the hospital. So that's really what I have seen change: a lot more collaboration for the good. It's completely necessary to really help address some of these complex problems.”

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