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The author in a role-playing scenario where she pulls over a car with suspicious characters in it.
The Barnstable Police Department seeks to upend any negative impressions people may have with its Citizen’s Police Academy, a wildly successful marketing strategy that is now taking applicants for its 26th session. Over the years, about 800 people have graduated from the Barnstable Citizens Police Academy, a 13-week class that gives citizens an inside perspective on local police work. I am one of those graduates and I have the diploma, academy windbreaker and photo with the chief of police to prove it. Yes, I drove a squad car, learned how to use handcuffs, shot a police pistol in target practice; and rode along on a snowy Saturday night shift. I listened intently as police talked about drugs, domestic violence and suspects for that day’s bank robbery.
We also got an insider’s view of police officers’ snacking preferences during a back and forth about what food we were to bring as a nightly potluck. We looked wide-eyed at dozens of weapons that had been confiscated from people in the town of Barnstable. Among the 22 women and 17 men in my class were 12 retirees, five married couples, a mother and son, nurses, teachers, court workers, an architect and a restaurant owner. After more than 55 hours of class time, instruction by more than 50 officers and civilians, the Barnstable Police Department did the seemingly impossible: left us wanting more.
Barnstable Police Chief Paul MacDonald said there have been major cutbacks in the police department in recent years, but one program they have not cut back on is the Citizens Police Academy. In a recent interview, Deputy Chief Craig Tamash stressed the importance of the citizens academy to the department. In a role-playing exercise, a class member follows protocol when interrupting a criminal in the middle of a crime. We were introduced to Ree Hirsch and Hid Welch, board members of the Bluecoats of Barnstable, a nonprofit group whose purpose is to fundraise for the police department.
In turn, the citizens police academy does not cost the department much, Deputy Chief Tamash said, several thousand dollars out of a $12 million budget. Servicing a town Barnstable Police Chief Paul MacDonald estimated at 75,000 in the winter and 150,000 in the summer takes a large department. There are 115 officers and 17 civilians dealing with approximately 54,000 calls for service last year.
At a recent talk at the Centerville Civic Association annual meeting, Chief MacDonald said the department is on track for 60,000 calls for service this year. The chief announced that Part I crimes in town, which are the most serious crimes like murder and rape, are down by 36 percent.
Officer Mark Delaney talks about the stories behind some of the many weapons that have been confiscated by police in the town of Barnstable. He estimated that 90 percent of the Part I crimes in town have to do with the use, distribution and trafficking of narcotics.
Several years ago after multiple shootings, the department radically changed the way it was fighting crime into a more proactive mode. The chief called those random patrols, “a complete waste of time,” not to mention a waste of gas.
Street Crime Unit officers go where the crime happens, seeking to disrupt the criminal element from business as usual. According to Chief MacDonald, Barnstable is considered a major city police department by virtue of its size and number of specialties, which include motorcycles, mountain bikes, and K-9 unit. With 130 establishments licensed to sell alcohol in the town, in past years, there were sometimes hundreds of people congregating after bars let out resulting in fights, shootings and stabbings. Another initiative to help curb crime in Hyannis by increasing police visibility was to open a police substation on Main Street. Barnstable police officers are typically locals who have grown up in town and have friends and family here. The first day of class, we were handed our citizens police academy badges, which have a familiar if not quite welcomed picture on them: our driver’s license photo.
Early on, we met Barnstable Police Officer Reid Hall, who has spent 38 years with the Barnstable Police Department, and is the school resource officer at Barnstable High School. In a wide-ranging talk about his role at the high school, he told us there are 17 cameras at BHS and school officials are looking to install more. Out of the 2,100 students at the high school, there are about 5 to 6 percent who “push the envelope” and often get suspended, he said. As for trends, Officer Hall said he is starting to see more serious crimes among 8th and 9th graders. He said there are a couple knife possessions per week at the high school, and there are one or two ambulance rescue runs each week from the school. We learned about the police officer’s survival mindset from Officer Jonathan Pass, BHS Class of ’85. Officer Christopher Ross, a BHS Class of ’97 graduate whose mother was in the class, demonstrated the type of gear an officer has on hand for a typical shift, including flashlights, surgical gloves, sharps container, and bug spray.

In a compelling role-playing demonstration, Officers Armando Feliciano and David Foley showed how officers approach a criminal in the process of committing a crime: voices are loud and commanding, leaving no question who is in charge. Lieutenant Matthew Sonnabend, who came to Barnstable from the Falmouth Police Department, explained the long and intricate hiring process for officers in Barnstable. Deputy Chief Tamash, BHS class of ’69, gave a talk about how constitutional law affects police work. Lieutenant Michael Clark, also a BHS graduate, and Officer Edward Cronin talked about the ins and outs of being a patrol officer.
Barnstable has a number of specialty units and each received its own session during the academy. Officer Brian Morrison, BHS class of ’89, talked about the mountain bike unit, which uses a patrol method that works particularly well in the summer when tourist traffic can delay squad car response. Being on the streets of Hyannis for hours a day, he deals with a lot homeless people, he said. Hinckley has the sole key for the evidence locker for Barnstable and she explained how evidence is handled.
In response to a question, she said neither she nor the officers are drug tested because the unions forbid it. In a session on the Street Crime Unit, Barnstable Police Lieutenant John Murphy Jr., a former FBI agent who heads it up, explained why the unit was formed.
In a span of three months in 2011, there were four shootings in Barnstable and many stabbings, he said. Thus began the Street Crime Unit, a multi-agency task force that has made more than 1,100 arrests since its inception in May 2011. Members of the Street Crime Unit patrol known trouble times and spots, like Hyannis Main Street at bar closing time, when, if every bar is full, there can be 3,000 people on Main Street. The unit’s tactics are intended “to move people causing problems out of their comfort zone,” Lt.
At his urging, local restaurant owners on Main Street have banded together so that if a troublemaking patron is banned from one bar, they are banned from all of them.
Barnstable Police Detective Sergeant Mark Mellyn, another officer who grew up in Barnstable, talked about the detective unit, which he heads up. He described one detective’s work in getting a man suspected of molesting a four-year-old to confess. A police officer’s adrenaline spikes all day long, so it is no surprise to learn that they live an average of two to three years after they retire, Sgt Mellyn said. While the average person may not come across these special units, there is one police unit with which everyone is familiar: the traffic cop.
Officer Brian Murray began his lesson on the traffic division by seeing if people knew what the legal speed limit is for various roads. Next Officer Brendan Burchell, who happens to lead the department in the number of operating under the influence tickets he has written, gave a very informative class on drunk driving.
There were a number of experiences during the academy that were unexpected, perhaps none more so than our session at the shooting range. The officers in charge warned it is not unusual for people unaccustomed to shooting to feel unable to continue after firing the gun for the first time. But after the first shot, I indeed felt nauseous and that feeling continued until the session was over. Many of us in the class were looking forward to the ride-along, a chance to ride in a police car with an officer for four hours of a shift.
There are about 10 to 12 arrests per day in Barnstable so chances are good that on a ride-along, you’re going to see some action, and I did.
For my ride-along, I picked the 8 to midnight shift on a Saturday night, thinking there might be a good bit of activity. After responding to a complaint of strange noises at a home in Hyannis, we responded to a domestic violence incident in a tony neighborhood of Hyannisport.
During our tour of the Barnstable County Correctional Institute, we learned that the county jail is almost at capacity with 381 people out of 400. To make sure every prisoner is properly identified, they photograph and document every tattoo and scar plus they do an iris scan, which, we were told, is 200 times more accurate than fingerprint. Officer Eric Drifmeyer, the department’s crime analyst and the only crime analyst on Cape Cod, explained the importance of his job.
He said Barnstable had been 13 or 14 in the state for Part I, or violent crimes in the past, but has sunk down to 19 or 20 on the list, a big improvement. He said abuse of opiates like Oxycontin and Percocet is rampant among professionals like police officers, firemen, nurses, doctors and lawyers as well as young people on the Cape.
We watched a role-playing session with Officer Rick Morse, known for being one of the more affable officers on the force, playing a sinister wife batterer.
We also received a quick lesson on how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft and a very thorough explanation of the court system by Assistance District Attorney Michael Donovan. The 25th class of the Barnstable Citizens Police Academy, with a few heads of absent classmates photoshopped in!

The chief told us that we were part of the extended Barnstable Police Department family and to stay in touch.
Our class gave to the Barnstable Police K-9 Foundation, a nonprofit that helps supplement the cost to care for the department’s police dogs.
The Bluecoats were founded by a graduate from the fourth session of the citizens police academy.
Instead of dividing the town into sectors and sending officers on random patrols, the chief started the Street Crime Unit, a more targeted way of fighting crime. The station, complete with a decoy police car parked out front, opened in the spring of 2011 at the intersection of Main Street and High School Road.
Calling it an ideal location, Chief MacDonald said he expects the new substation to be up and running by January or February 1.
It is a slightly uneasy start to a session that makes clear that these guys have access to more stuff about us than we do about them. We learned a great deal about the department and the individual officers, “the good, the bad and the ugly,” as Sgt. He also teaches a police academy class to high school seniors interested in a career in law enforcement. Hinckley gave us a fascinating lesson on chain of custody, which is critical for successful criminal prosecution and convictions. Murphy spoke to our class, a Barnstable court judge’s ruling came down repudiating some street crime unit tactics. Murphy did say he is in touch with judges at the local courts about the unit’s tactics to ensure they meet the letter of the law.
Murphy also gave a stark glimpse into the stressful world of a police officer, pointing out that police are always dealing with people in crisis, whether it is the victim of a crime, people involved in a car accident, or someone who is pulled over. Mellyn said, For instance, when they arrest someone, they know the suspects’ kids won’t see them that night. Sergeant Michael Damery told us about the Special Response Team, another highly specialized unit, similar to a SWAT team. Thanks to Homeland Security, the team’s vehicle is an 18,000-pound Bearcat armored truck, complete with battering ram. He got lots of wrong answers, before he patiently enlightened the class with the correct answer: 30 (for thickly settled areas), 40 (for rural roads), and 50 (for divided highways).
He gave us a list of excuses he has heard from speeders and from those driving without a seatbelt. In order to illustrate how little alcohol it takes for people to be impaired, two members of the class were given alcohol and then put through sobriety tests. There was the couple who saw the aftermath of a fatal car crash and the classmate who sat terrified in the squad car as her officer pursued a suspect. We sped across town from Yarmouth Road to Hyannisport with lights flashing and siren blazing as the first fat flakes of a snowstorm hit the windshield horizontally. His data helped formulate the focus for the Street Crime Unit by analyzing where most of the crimes in town take place and when.
The police chief and other officers wore what they call their Class A uniforms for the event, the uniforms they use to show respect during solemn occasions, for instance at an officer’s funeral. Caiado preferred rollwiches while Detective Kevin Connolly urged more creativity, along the lines of beef stew. Membership dues of $200 per year pay for numerous items for the department The Bluecoats are currently paying rent for the Hyannis police substation, the chief said.
Barnstable Police use about 60 volunteers throughout the year serving mostly as couriers and greeters at the police station, and their services are worth about $180,000 per year according to a recent department budget presentation. The class members who volunteered for the demonstration were given a ride to class and a ride home, plus a wake-up call the next morning to ensure they were okay. The town gets about 600 restraining orders filed per year and the department records 60 to 70 sexual assaults per year.
There was a procession, speeches, and the singing of the national anthem by Barnstable Police Officer Stephen O’Brien.
All applicants have to have lived in town for at least a year to be considered for a job as a Barnstable police officer.
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During the citizens police academy, several officers mentioned the year they graduated from Barnstable High School as part of their introduction.

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