By Lisa Moore
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
Last Wednesday, Wellesley residents filed into the Community Center for a farewell coffee honoring Wellesley Police Chief Terrence M. Cunningham. Chief Cunningham started with the Wellesley Police force in 1981 as a part time volunteer special officer. In 1983, he became a full time police officer and has spent the last 33 years in that capacity, with the last 17 years served as Chief.
Maura McCauley, who was on the board of selectmen that appointed Cunningham Chief 17 years ago, introduced him and thanked him for his years of service to the community. Chief Cunningham spoke to the assembled group, thanking those in attendance for coming and recognizing his wife for all of her support.
“It has been such an honor to be the police Chief for Wellesley. The men and women I serve with do an incredible job.” Sharing anecdotes of his experiences on the police force, Cunningham reflected on his lengthy years of service. “I have been all over the world. We are lucky. Our way of life and our form of government makes this the best place in the world for me.”
Over the length of his tenure, Chief Cunningham has watched the Wellesley Police Department evolve. He spoke of the changes the department has undergone over the years. One major change occurred in 1993, when ambulance service was shifted from the police department’s responsibility to the fire department’s. Cunningham shared that when the police department was responsible for providing emergency medical service, it enabled the police officers to feel very connected to the community.
With the national climate of anti-police sentiment, the officers look for other ways to connect with residents. ”What sets us apart, is the department supports a guardian mind-set. The duties of our police officers, day-to-day, are all about service. A hard part of the job is having experiences that build trust in the community.”
Another major change to the department was the removal of the department from civil service in 1999. This change has allowed the department to hire recruits that are more qualified, strengthening the WPD. “The department is a special place right now. When an officer makes a mistake, they feel like they let me down. That’s the environment we created here.”
Next on the horizon for Chief Cunningham will be assuming the role of Deputy Director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Alexandria Virginia. The IACP is the largest police organization in the country at the executive level. Cunningham hopes to use his new international role to provide training to police departments nationally and internationally, and hopes to have a positive impact on changing some of the culture of law enforcement. He is hoping to build a plan around leadership to help change the negative image of police and turn down some of the negative rhetoric.
After Chief Cunningham spoke, members of the audience shared personal stories of appreciation for all his years of service. Wellesley resident David Himmelberger summed up the town’s sentiment when he said, “Wellesley’s loss is the country’s gain.”
Thank you Chief Cunningham for all you have done for Wellesley, and best of luck to you on your new endeavor.