Lieutenant Now Runs Police Force

Theodore Saulnier Takes Leadership Role in Tisbury


Just seven months into his tenure at the Tisbury police department, Lieut. Theodore A. (Ted) Saulnier is the man in charge. After the resignation of John McCarthy as police chief a week ago, the board of selectmen instructed Lieutenant Saulnier to perform the duties of the former chief.

Lieutenant Saulnier, 40, spoke with the Gazette Wednesday in the chief's office at the station on the harbor in Tisbury.

He was born and raised in Waltham. After high school he went on to study at Middlesex Community College and transferred to Northeastern University. During his last semester in college, he was hired as a patrolman for the Waltham police department. His interest in policing comes to him naturally. "It sounds clichéd, but I like the idea of helping people and being able to make an impact on the community," said Mr. Saulnier.

He was graduated from Northeastern in 1983 and continued to work as a police officer in a variety of assignments, from desk work to a one-man cruiser. "I enjoyed all the new aspects of policing and all the new things I was learning," said Mr. Saulnier of his introduction to the force.

In 1985, he began to pursue a master's degree in criminal justice, taking night classes at Anna Maria in Paxton and graduating in 1987. "I just wanted to further myself and get more information on my job, my career and my profession," he said.

He studied to become a lawyer at Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, and passed the bar exam three years later in 1992.

All the while, Lieutenant Saulnier continued his police work. In 1995, he was promoted to detective in the narcotics unit, a post he held for two years until his promotion to sergeant in 1998.

Over the past two years, Mr. Saulnier began visiting the Island and experienced all the seasons on the Vineyard.

Following the recommendations of the Wasserman report, a study of the police department commissioned by the town, the Tisbury board of selectmen sought last summer to hire a lieutenant.

When he saw the ad for the position, he pursued it. "I saw the ad and I had been coming and visiting the Island and said, ‘Oh, what an opportunity. I can actually work and live in a place I had been visiting and enjoying so much,' " said Mr. Saulnier. "I also thought it was an opportunity professionally to have more of an impact on my community than I could in the big department and the big city where I was."

The board of selectmen appointed Mr. Saulnier on August 27 and he signed a three-year contract. The selectmen have told him they do not plan to appoint him acting chief or hire a new chief at this point. The board will decide in the next three to six months how to fill the former chief's position.

Waltham is a city three miles west of Boston. "Interestingly enough, I come to an Island that grows in population seasonally. Waltham grew in population daily," said Mr. Saulnier with a laugh. The city's night population of 60,000 grows to 120,000 during the day. The Waltham department has 160 police officers.

Mr. Saulnier, with a stocky frame, sat at the table inside the office and spoke easily about his introduction into the department. Often a smile appeared below his light brown mustache.

"I remained outside of [the controversy]," said Mr. Saulnier. "I had a meeting with the patrol staff. I told them whatever happened in the past, happened prior to my coming here. I was focused on the future and looking at the police department and seeing what I could do to positively impact it."

Lieutenant Saulnier is confident he can bring a positive influence to policing in the town. "Waltham is a progressive police department and it has some tremendous attributes," he said. "I knew I could take my experience there and apply it here and make this a terrific department."

The Waltham police department was the first in the state to be nationally accredited and one of the first to be state accredited. Accreditation creates a standard of policing and creates a department that applies those standards in its day-to-day operations.

Lieutenant Saulnier said he has experience in bringing financial aid to a police department. "I wrote a whole lot of grants at the Waltham police department and helped get a lot of programs off the ground, for instance a cadet program, and helped units along by the grant process."

When asked about his police philosophy, he answered, "My basic philosophy is community policing. We cannot do the police job without the community's support and help. The whole community should feel free to contact us with any issues relating to the quality of life throughout the town so that we can take a look at it and address some of these issues and improve the quality of life."

Mr. Saulnier will meet regularly with the police advisory board - a board created by the selectmen based on a recommendation in the Wasserman report. "I think the police advisory committee is terrific. My only wish is that it could be larger to include everyone in the community," he said, smiling. "It is great to have representatives from the community there and to have a diverse group to tell us and direct us on what we need to do and what the community has in mind for the police department.

"It has been my goal to take the department and bring it where it needs to go. I have a vision for this police department where it can be five or 10 years down the road," said Mr. Saulnier. "With or without the Wasserman report - from my standpoint, having arrived after the fact that some of these things reportedly went on - I think I can really impact the police department in being what it should be down the road."

Lieutenant Saulnier said he is working to create a constructive relationship with the officers. "We have a whole bunch of cops here who are more than capable. We have some really talented people," he said. "Given some leeway, given some empowerments, allow them to go out and act the way they know they should act, lots of things around here will be different."

Mr. Saulnier said he wants to be a sounding board and provide a voice of experience for the officers.

One issue that concerns the police officers is staffing. Mr. Saulnier, who draws up the schedule for the 10 officers, is planning to make a recommendation about the staffing level in the next four to five weeks. "I want to see how things go along. I have yet to make a conclusory judgment on what the needs are," he said.

When Lieutenant Saulnier has free time, he will be out surf casting for stripers and blues, one of the things that attracted him to the Island in the first place. He also enjoys tinkering with old cars and proudly owns a 1967 Buick Skylark convertible.

Heading into his eighth month with the police force, Mr. Saulnier said he is fitting in more as time goes on. "I think there was some apprehension about who I was, what I was all about," he said. "I think if you ask the patrolmen now, you'll find they do respect me and enjoy coming to work as much as can be expected. They are very receptive in going in the direction which I have expressed, in the way I like to see the department go. I think the morale is very good."

Lieutenant Saulnier views his newness to the Island and the police department as something that can benefit the force.

"I am in a new environment altogether," he said. "In certain respects I am the fresh look at things, and in other respects I have to learn from ground zero what the problem really is. I found my newness has helped, and my newness has caused me to work a little harder. All in all, I think my newness has been a positive influence."

Asked how he is adjusting from the city to Island life, Mr. Saulnier said, "I like it. I like the small town life and lifestyle. The fact that everyone knows your business doesn't bother me. It makes my job a lot easier. That is what community policing is all about, living life as a community not as a bunch of anonymous people. I love the change."

Lieutenant Saulnier wants to reach out to the town and open up a direct relationship. "For any kind of a problem, someone can come right in here, the door is open. I would gladly sit and meet with anyone and address any problem," he said. "I just want to help the people in the community and the Island overall."