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By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
From her office at the Medfield Public Safety building, Chief Michelle Guerette has a clear view of Dale Street School. After being heading the police department for 12 years, Chief Robert Meaney left big shoes to fill. However, for Medfield’s new police chief, it’s a perfect fit. With a focus on policing with good communication, Guerette is helping to ensure that residents live safely - and have a great relationship with law enforcement.
Michelle Guerette had not initially imagined becoming a police officer. One conversation changed that plan, however. A family friend was visiting and Guerette, who was 18 or 19 at the time, was talking with him. “He looked at me and said: ‘You know, I think you would be a really good police officer.’ And I hadn’t given it that much thought.” At the time, Guerette was considering joining the military. “It kind of put the bug in my ear and it just set off a whole different path, a different trajectory for me.”
Guerette then made her move toward becoming a police officer. She applied and was accepted into 57th Police Academy in 1996. “My experience in Providence was overwhelmingly positive,” she says. “I had a lot of opportunities to traverse our department through administration, investigations, training, policy, [and] patrol, which ultimately gave a very well-rounded career to advance.”
After working as an officer in Providence for over twenty years, Guerette built up a wealth of experience. A close friend had encouraged her to start applying for police chief jobs and Guerette agreed - though she was a bit reluctant. “I didn’t want to be in a big city or large staffing,” she explains. “I wanted to have personal relationships - not just with my officers, but also the stakeholders in town, so that everyone has a voice.”
Amidst studying for a captain’s exam, her friend sent her the application for Medfield’s chief of police position, noting that it seemed to be exactly what she was looking for - and that it was closer to home.
“It’s the only other department, with the exception of Providence, that I looked into,” she notes. If she hadn’t received the job in Medfield, she would have continued working for the Providence Police Department.
But Guerette’s years of hard work paid off. She received notice that she had been moved on to the next round of the application process. It was the interview phase with the selection committee that made Gueretta realize Medfield was perfect for her. “I walked out of that interview and I knew I really wanted this job. It clicked,” she observes. “It was less like an interview and more like a conversation.”
Working in Medfield, as opposed to Providence, presents some obvious differences. At highest capacity, the Providence Police Department was authorized for 494 officers. In Medfield, top staffing is 19 officers. 19 officers would not even be half a shift size for Guerette in Providence.
“While we don’t have a tremendous amount of crime in Medfield - which is a great statistic to have for any community - you still deal with the same type of calls,” the chief tells Hometown Weekly. “People call about neighbor complaints. They’re calling about traffic issues.” While some people may view these as menial and perhaps a waste of time and resources, it actually seems to be just what residents in Medfield and Providence are both concerned about.
“That’s a really great problem to have. If you’re a police chief and you can actually focus your resources on the types of things that impact people’s quality of life, their homes, how they feel about their community. That’s what policing was supposed to be about.” Working in Providence, Chief Guerette always expected to hear concerns about the local crime. “But when you go to a community meeting, the public outcry was rarely was about the types of things that we, as police officers, would think are important,” she says. Instead, residents had the same exact concerns those in Medfield have. “When you actually went out into the community and asked them 'What are your concerns?’ rarely did they say ‘well, there was a homicide.’ They would say ‘someone is speeding,’ ‘my neighbor’s dog barked all night,’ ‘there’s trash on the street’ or ‘the stop sign came down.’ It’s the same complaints as here.”
But unlike in Providence, Guerette has the ability to really focus on these issues. “It’s just in a smaller town. I actually have the ability to really problem solve and hopefully improve someone’s quality of life.”
Chief Guerette went headfirst into interacting with her community on her first day of work in Medfield on April 29. Prior to her first day, Guerette had been warned that should be starting the same day as the annual Town Meeting. She thought that the packed town meeting may overwhelm her. “I was humbled,” she says. When city council meetings would be held in Providence, it wasn’t unusual to have no residents show up. “I don’t know that I didn’t expect it, I just wasn’t used to it.”
For Guerette, it is a welcome change. “I would rather people inundate me with their concerns than sit quietly and complain. If you’re going home and you’re aggravated, I want you to have a voice. This is a town that people, I think, not only do they have a voice, [but] they feel like they can have a voice.”
As in every community, Medfield comes with its surprises. As Chief Guerette is finding out, the residents of Medfield are dedicated not only to their fellow man, but other creatures as well. Coming in for the Memorial Day parade, Chief Guerette and her daughter were expecting a normal celebration.
But as a police officer, Chief Guerette has to be prepared for anything.
While the chief and her daughter were driving into Medfield, a call came in about a turtle that was crossing by Hospital Road. “I said: ‘We’re right over here. Let’s take a look.’ [My daughter’s] eight. She asks: ‘Mom, did someone call 911 because of a turtle crossing the road?’ And I said, ‘No, sweetheart, several people called 911 because of a turtle crossing the road.’” The turtle was gone upon arrival. Still, the call - and Guerette’s response - shows just how important communication with residents is.
Since starting, Chief Guerette has strived to improve not only how town complaints are handled, but also how she communicates with the Medfield community. Using Twitter, Chief Guerette lets residents know when they’ll be looking for speeding on certain streets. She’s visited the Medfield Senior Center to discuss problems they have.
For Chief Guerette, it isn't just about transitioning from a city to small town. It's about making sure there is an open line of communication between the department and the townspeople to ensure that Medfield becomes an even better community.