Roses for the Chief

She stepped into the job sixteen years ago, quietly making history as the first woman police chief on the Vineyard. And this week, just as quietly, Beth Toomey retired from the job.

Largely unsung and yet without question a woman who made a difference, Chief Toomey leaves an indelible mark in the world of small-town law enforcement, in Northborough, where she began her career, and here on the Island where she has just closed a second chapter. She believed in community policing long before it was in vogue; it was common sense and also a mother’s sensibility that drove her in her early days on the job to set up an after-school program in West Tisbury to teach kids cartooning and jewelry-making as a way to stay occupied in the idle hours between the time when school lets out and suppertime and homework begin. “Some parents say kids ought to be able to entertain themselves,” she told the Martha’s Vineyard magazine in a Nineteen Ninety-Four interview. “But the reality today is that with TV and home video most don’t know how. We want to teach them.”

Seeing quickly that the Island’s biggest problems stemmed from drug and alcohol abuse, she applied for state grants to help develop programs to combat these social ills. “My approach is to train the police department in areas they’re not normally trained in — twelve-step programs, alcohol, drugs and so forth. We’re called for every problem, so we need to be a good bridge to other agencies,” she said.

Chief Toomey has also been able to bridge the gap between the Island and the larger world on the mainland, moving with ease from managing a traffic nightmare for three days in August during the annual Agricultural Fair, to a different kind of nightmare when the national press corps descended on the Vineyard like locusts after the John F. Kennedy Jr. plane crash, or during the vacation visits of two sitting presidents.

She has handled it all with cool, intelligent professionalism, and has been a mother and foster mother too.

And now it is time to wish Chief Toomey well in her retirement — the West Tisbury selectmen did just that with long-stemmed red roses at the annual town meeting this week — and to let her know that she will long be appreciated for her work on the Island. We’ll especially miss her at the Gazette when it comes time to do the police log checks in the heat of summer.