AMESBURY – Over the last 30 years, there have been countless changes at the Amesbury Police Department as hundreds of officers have come and gone. One constant during those decades has been Crime Prevention Officer Thomas Hanshaw who joined the department in 1987 when the original Magnum P.I. was on TV and Ronald Reagan was in the White House.
But on July 18, Hanshaw will be saying goodbye to his co-workers as the 55-year-old trades in his service weapon for a light saber – and his patrol car for a sofa. Hanshaw said his decision to retire from the force (police force that is) was a combination of reaching the 80% plateau of his police pension and a desire to spend more time at home with his wife, Gale.
“It’s time to let a new generation take over,” Hanshaw said.
The extra time, he said, will also allow him to watch more sports, collect new sports cards and take additional trips to Disney with his wife and three children. The self-confessed geek has a passion for Star Wars, the Beatles and other pop culture staples.
“Yeah, pretty much, admittedly,” Hanshaw said, when asked if he was a geek.
The lifelong Amesbury resident joined the department in 1983 as an auxiliary officer. Four years later he was named a permanent reserve and became a full-time officer in 1988 after graduating from the police academy. He retires never having fired his service weapon, except in practice, and as one of the most recognizable faces in the city. But Hanshaw said he won’t be disappearing to the Star Wars world of Hoth or Fenway Park to be closer to his beloved Red Sox. Instead, he’ll continue to be police officer for special events and work details for the next few years. Hanshaw ranks second in longevity at the department with only Sgt. Richard Poulin at the School Street station longer.
For more than five years, Hanshaw has written the weekly Amesbury Beat column for The Daily News of Newburyport, and for the now defunct Amesbury News for two decades before that. Hanshaw said his column will be written by a rotating cast of Amesbury police officers starting with Chief William Scholtz and lieutenants Kevin Donovan and Craig Bailey. Hanshaw will also guest star now and then, he added.
Bailey could barely contain his emotions when asked about what Hanshaw meant to the department and to him as a new officer years ago.
“I’m incredibly sad that we’re losing him,” Bailey said.
It was Hanshaw, Bailey said, that looked after him when he joined the department and made sure he was part of the team.
“Tommy was the first one to make me feel welcome,” Bailey said.
According to Bailey, Hanshaw’s crime prevention duties will be split among 10 or more people within the department. Among the duties Bailey listed were acting as liaison to the Chamber of Commerce and the Council on Aging, organizing National Night Out events, working with elected officials and perpetuating the department’s crime watch program.
“Oh my gosh, I could keep on going,” Bailey said, adding that Hanshaw’s role within the community was unprecedented in terms of the police department.
Community policing in Amesbury was created back in the mid 1990s when then Deputy Chief Gary Ingham Jr. was brainstorming ways to short circuit the narrative that Amesbury’s police department only responded to bad people and bad things.
Hanshaw’s involvement came after Ingham transferred him to the day shift allowing him time to visit schools and mingle with community leaders. Since then, Hanshaw has been a fixture of the day shift for the past 20-plus years. The job has changed dramatically since 1988, Hanshaw said. Back then, policing was more about law enforcement — catching the burglar or pulling over the intoxicated driver. Today, the job is more about providing a network of support for the most vulnerable in the community and keeping them from dipping into lawlessness.
“Now a lot of our work is social services,” Hanshaw said.
He pointed out the department’s partnerships with local food pantry Our Neighbors’ Table, community resource The Pettengill House and the domestic abuse prevention organization Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, as examples.
“I’m extremely proud to be an Amesbury police officer and serve the community,” Hanshaw said. “I may by biased but I think it’s a great department.”
Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @drogers41008.