AMESBURY — Police stations can be intimidating places, especially to young children who typically are there with one or more of their parents.
With that in mind, the Amesbury Police Department has installed a 29-gallon aquarium inside its first-floor interview room to hopefully allay the anxieties of some of their young visitors.
Officer Jason Kooken, who helped secure donations for the fish tank, supplies and the creatures inside, said that many times, parents reporting domestic abuse and other home-related issues have no choice but to bring their children along.
The aquarium is an effort to soothe their nerves and perhaps distract them during the tense moments when their parents are speaking about very troubling matters, he said.
"Anything we can do to calm them down is huge," Kooken said. "They get pretty excited about it. At least, it's something else that's going to help."
Kooken has experienced the calming effect of aquariums on children firsthand, having arranged for an even larger tank to be set up inside the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center in Amesbury in 2005.
Like the smaller version inside the Amesbury Police Department, the crisis center's fish tank, paid for by the Amesbury Police Department's union, has been heralded for its calming effect on the many children who visit the facility with their parents.
The Police Department's tank was donated by Minnesota-based Oceanic Systems, while the fish, plants and supplies were obtained free from former Amesbury resident Nick Margerison, who co-owns a fish supply business in Florida. Had the department bought the aquarium itself, it would have cost about $500, Kooken said.
As of this week, the aquarium is home to several tetras, catfish, snails and live plants.
"I'm going for a South American-Amazon bio type," Kooken said jokingly.
Kooken said he is on the lookout for additional fish, with a particular interest in obtaining fish that will lay eggs and have babies inside the aquarium.
Upkeep of the tank will fall to Kooken, who before his stint in the police department, worked for a company that maintained aquariums for offices and restaurants.
The idea for the fish tank came from Amesbury police Chief Mark Gagnon who said he has walked by the interview room "a million times" during his long tenure with the department and has often seen children sitting with their parents in less-than-ideal circumstances.
"The poor kids are sitting there listening to these stories," Gagnon said.
So, he approached Kooken, who had arranged for the crisis center's aquarium and knew a thing or two about maintaining them, to look into getting one for the department. Before long, Kooken reported back to him saying he had made some inquiries and a fish tank was on its way.
"It's one of the many things he does for the agency and for the town," Gagnon said.