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Chief Carmichael resigns for Newton job

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Walpole resident John F. Carmichael, Jr. has been the Walpole Chief of Police for five years, and has served as a Walpole Police Officer for 25 years. But while you will still see him around town at youth sports events or just day-to-day as a member of the Walpole community, he won’t be chasing criminals or writing a child a positive ticket here in town.

Chief Carmichael has accepted the position to become Newton’s new chief of police, going from leading the department of a town of around 25,000 people to one of around 90,000.   

What is prompting the move? According to Chief Carmichael, he got a brochure and saw that a lot of the community policing style initiatives they were trying to enact in Newton were things he’d done successfully in Walpole. Combined with a desire for a new challenge and the fear he would regret it if he didn’t try something new before his career ended, Carmichael opted to take the job.

“A lot of the things they were looking for in Newton fell right in my wheelhouse,” he explained, “like community engagement, and strengthening partnerships between the police and the community; that’s what Newton’s trying to get done right now. So, I kind of looked at that and I said, 'You know, I’m at this point in my career, I’m going to try and throw my hat in the ring just to see what happens.' I had no expectations at all.”

After a lengthy, multiple-month national search, Chief Carmichael was offered the job. Although he “really struggled with it over a couple weeks,” ultimately, “I kind of just figured that I have to accept new challenges, and if I didn’t accept the big challenge like this, that I could get to the end of my career and I’d regret it. I’d regret not trying other things and other experiences.”

In his absence, Chief Carmichael said Deputy Chief Rich Kelleher will take over, until Walpole likely will hold the same type of extensive search for a new chief that Newton did. Noting his leadership characteristics as well as the fact that he’s been by his side during “the most crucial time I’ve seen in policing in all the times I’ve been doing it,” Chief Carmichael believes Kelleher is ready to take the helm and that he will do an amazing job.

Looking back over the course of his time at Walpole, Carmichael said if he had to hang his hat on any accomplishment, it would be the community policing initiatives he enacted. He especially cited the positive ticket program, which he said had great buy-in from all the officers.

“To see the look on their face to meet a police officer and to have that positive engagement and for them to be rewarded for something, you just see their face light up and it’s great to see. And they remember you. Eventually what happens is they start to know who you are; they know who our officers are, they know us by name, and that’s when you know you’ve made inroads - when the kids can identify you, they know who that officer is. That’s when you know you’re doing something right. We’ve been very good at that; I think our officers are better than anybody at that.”

Other community policing initiatives have included surveys and community feedback the department has sought, the community resource dog, the ride to school program, the basketball and hockey games kids have played against Walpole PD, and Stu-PAC - the Student Police Advisory Council that connects high school students with police officers, as Chief Carmichael noted it’s especially hard to reach out to kids at that age.

But as much as he was proud of his policing initiatives, Chief Carmichael was also proud of his police officers. He noted “What I really enjoy seeing," he noted, "is seeing our younger officers grow and mature into better police officers. As leaders, our job is always to coach, direct and guide them to become better police officers. I love to see that young officer come onto the department and just watch them grow into very fine police officers. That’s what I get the best reward out of.”

When pressed on whether any memory would really stick out to him as being especially noteworthy or funny, Chief Carmichael noted in police work you have “eight million stories, some good some bad.” But while he could easily have brought up a time he looked like a real hero or tough guy, instead, the story that came to mind was the exact opposite.

Before he was chief of police, Chief Carmichael was a motorcycle cop here in Walpole, and although he passed all the state’s training, he was not great on the bike. While falling off a motorcycle (which Chief Carmichael said he did often) is always embarrassing, he will always remember when he fell off his bike in the middle of town, during a parade.  

“During the night before the Fourth parade, when I was riding the motorcycle in front of all the people at the parade, right in the center of town, I tried to do a keyhole and come back out of it. I wiped out in the middle of the street and dumped the bike. When you dump the bike, you have to pick it up to get it back upright, but then you have to wait a minute so the gas and the oil can flow right. It won’t turn itself on for like three minutes. So, I had to sit there on the bike with everybody staring at me right after I just wiped out, and I heard somebody yell: ‘Hey Johnny, why don’t you stick to the pedal bike next time?'”

When asked what he would most miss about being the Chief of Police in Walpole Carmichael answered, “The people. Definitely the people. My family I work with here and just all the members of the Walpole community. The people who make the town great, their sincere support for me and for the police department is second to none, and I think that’s just a staple for us as far as we’ve been able to create great partnerships. We’re not perfect by any stretch, but I think we overall do a very good job and are service-oriented and have very strong partnerships with the community. I’m going to miss the shenanigans here at the station, the practical jokes we play, and just living and being a part of the community. I live here, so living here and working here was very rewarding. I’m going to miss that,”

As for a final message he’d like to send the town, Carmichael’s answer was simple.

“I just want to thank the community. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have been the police chief here. It’s been a privilege.”

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