SALISBURY — Cruising very slowly down Atlantic Avenue, Salisbury’s newest full-time police officer Richard Dellaria spots an SUV parked at the very end of the crowded, coast-hugging street.
The sight of the dark-colored vehicle in a no-parking area far away from any other car instantly draws his attention. As he glides the aggressive-looking Dodge Charger cruiser up to the SUV, a young man and woman hurriedly exit the vehicle, prompting Dellaria to exclaim they are likely up to no good.
Immediately, the 27-year-old Newburyport native notices an abnormally large bulge in the man’s right front pocket. He asks the man what’s in his pocket, only to discover a wallet filled to the bursting point with papers, cards and cash.
As he is asked to sit on the hood of Dellaria’s cruiser, the young man, wearing a Cleveland Indians baseball cap with straight brim and dark colored T-shirt, acknowledges the request by calling Dellaria “bro.” When Dellaria corrects him and says he’s not a “bro,” the man calls him “dude,” eliciting another denouncement.
“I’m not a dude either,” Dellaria says.
Dellaria turns his attention to the dark-haired woman, who begins sobbing profusely as he peppers her with questions about what they are doing there. His questions are asked quickly and in an unnerving tone that oozes of suspicion. Eventually, he peers through a car window and asks if he can have a look inside. The woman declines. Without consent, Dellaria can’t search the vehicle.
With that, Dellaria collects her driver’s license and the driver’s license of the young man before slipping back into his cruiser. With great alacrity, he taps their information into the cruiser’s laptop computer. Within seconds, the police’s database informs him there aren’t any warrants for their arrests but that the young man, who lives in Amesbury, just served a stretch in jail and was recently released.
With nothing to hold them on, aside from his suspicions, Dellaria orders them to clear the area immediately, reminding them they are parked illegally. As the SUV pulls away, a nearby homeowner flags down Dellaria and asks to speak with him. The homeowner says incidents such as the one Dellaria just cleared from are on the rise again.
“It’s this time of the year that this starts,” the female resident says.
She asks him if they could visit the end of the street more often. Dellaria, with a toothy grin, says police would be happy to grant her request and asks her to call the station should she see anything suspicious. The resident looks grateful and waves as he turns around and heads back toward Broadway.
The trip down Atlantic Avenue personifies community policing — one of the goals of Dellaria’s boss, police Chief Thomas Fowler. Since Fowler’s hire last July, one of his goals has been for his officers to be proactive instead of reactive. In other words: stop crime before it starts.
Dellaria, who was hired by Fowler’s predecessor Chief Richard Merrill Jr. in December 2011, appears to be fitting in very well with Fowler’s mission.
“I’m very proactive. I get bored easily, simple as that,” Dellaria says.
Dellaria, who worked a 3 to 11 p.m. shift last week, says he typically prefers night shifts, as there is more going on. Summer months, he says, are far more busy too, calling Salisbury a “ghost town” during winter. During summer nights, it’s very difficult to be proactive, as police officers are often reacting to alcohol-fueled misbehavior, domestic disputes or drug-related mayhem. But during the quieter times, it’s his finely tuned sixth sense that lends to Fowler’s mission of stopping crime before it starts.
During his years as a reserve officer for Salisbury and his time at the academy, Dellaria honed his ability to see beyond what the untrained eye would call mundane or harmless and spot possible trouble on a dime. He credits fellow Salisbury officers Keith Forget, James Leavitt, current Amesbury police officer Craig Lesage and Sgt. Timothy Hunter as his tutors, trainers and friends.
“They taught me what looks normal and what doesn’t,” Dellaria says.
Dellaria also credits Fowler’s style as making a significant impact inside the Railroad Avenue police station.
“He’s a very professional and approachable chief. I don’t think anyone wants to disappoint him,” Dellaria says.
After years of internal turmoil beginning shortly after the hiring of former Chief David L’Esperance, continuing with former acting Chief Kevin Sullivan and culminating with the retirement of longtime sergeant-turned chief Merrill, Fowler’s hire seems to have calmed tensions within and outside the department.
L’Esperance was relieved of duty in December 2010 by Town Manager Neil Harrington amidst allegations he engaged in criminal behavior while chief. L’Esperance retired soon after the allegations came to light and was found not guilty on theft charges related to his alleged actions.
“Guys want to go out and work, they want to work. We’ve moved past the distractions, we’re all friends. Honestly, everybody is getting along,” Dellaria says.
Proof of Dellaria’s commitment to hard work can be seen in the department’s police log, which lists arrests, summonses, traffic stops, property checks, suspicious behavior calls and other activity. On drug arrests, car chases, physical confrontations and domestic disputes, Dellaria’s name is mentioned regularly. Less than two years on the job, Dellaria’s reputation as an officer who enjoys heavy lifting has spread throughout the department. With a smile, Dellaria acknowledges his fondness for high-call volumes and night shifts over days.
“I think any young cop is going to like those,” Dellaria says.
But with 28 years to go until he reaches 30 years of service, the benchmark where many officers retire, there’s little chance he’ll maintain his breakneck pace, he admits.
“I’m sure I’ll slow down at some point,” Dellaria says.
Perhaps he will slow down once he hopefully moves up through the ranks, a scenario envisioned by many young officers.
“But you have to chase tires and work the midnights,” Dellaria says, referencing a police term for conducting motor vehicle stops.
Dellaria’s softer side comes shining through during one of those motor vehicle stops just over the Gillis Bridge heading toward Salisbury Square. A young driver already late for work is driving well past the 40 mph limit. As soon as he begins talking to the teen, Dellaria smiles widely, quickly calming the young driver who, according to Dellaria, was extremely nervous about his transgression. After collecting his paperwork, Dellaria tells the teen that he won’t ticket him, allowing him to go to work without worry that his parents would find out.
Just to be sure and to obtain the necessary information to write the driver a written warning, Dellaria pulls his name up in the database. As he suspects, the teen doesn’t have a traffic violation to his name and he isn’t wanted on any warrants. Dellaria slides out of his cruiser, bounds over to the teen and hands him back his paperwork. He smiles again, likely after hearing the teen thank him for letting him go with a written warning, and heads back to the cruiser to inform the dispatcher he is resuming his patrol.