Jim Alexander,
76 Sorrel Road

Interviewer: Renee Garrelick
Date: January 19, 1993

Click here for audio in .mp3 format

Jim Alexander

Youth in West Concord
-- Father as Reformatory guard
-- Neighborhood farms

Concord Police Dept. in 1955
-- Firing range in the basement of Town Hall
-- Low turnover in police department

Juvenile advocacy
-- Drug problem

Media and police logs

Community cooperation

Security for celebrities
-- Caroline Kennedy and the Secret Service

Concord was a pleasant town to grow up in. The community was mostly a rural town back then in my youth. There were a lot of farms. In fact my house right here was on a farm and I lived across the street from it. Down at the bottom of the hill on Wright Road there was a piggery, this is off Laws Brook Road. This farmland that my house is on now was owned by Ed Christofesen in Acton just over the town line. There was asparagus in the early part of the year and then pumpkins or corn later in the year. Most young people in this town worked on farms as they grew up, either Tom McGrath's, Kenney Farms, Wheeler Farm out on Nine Acre Corner which was one of the farms most of the young people in this area of town worked. The place where most people went and associated with was the town of Maynard. There was a bus line between the two towns and it was easier for people from West Concord to go to Maynard than to go to Concord Center. There was certainly a separation in those days between Concord Center and West Concord.

In West Concord, there was the Allen Chair Company which was manufacturing furniture where Bradford Furniture is now, there was the Concord Woodworking out on Damon Street behind the present post office in West Concord, Dovre Ski Binding Company and the Garnet Mill which was a woolen facility which was where the Leather Shop is presently.

My father worked for the Reformatory and I later lived in what they called the White Row prison houses where guards and their families lived on Commonwealth Avenue between the railroad tracks and the rotary circle. Guards and their families were an integral part of the town back in those days. In West Concord, almost all of Commonwealth Avenue even the houses that weren't part of the White Row housed guards and their families. Over on Elm Street, the area.of Assabet Avenue and Elm Place and across from the state police barracks were all prison houses where guards and their families lived. These were all duplex houses so each house had two families in it. There were generally a lot of children in these homes, 4, 5, 6 children in a home. So it was a little community unto itself.

I went to Concord High School and graduated in 1949. I went one year to Boston University and completed a year there and then I left to go into the Air Force. While I was in the Air Force I got married and I had three children. After four years in the Air Force, I got discharged and about six months after getting out, I joined the Concord Police Department in 1955.

Growing up my life centered around school, sports, church, religion, family. This was a town that you grew up and stayed with your friends and stayed in the town, you didn't go other places other than up to Maynard to see a movie either at the People's Theater or the Colonial Theater. There was no transportation. You might go into Boston to see the Red Sox or the Boston Braves back then. It was a very family oriented community. People knew each other. Most people lived here long periods of time and everybody knew everybody. In fact when I came on the police department, there were still probably between 7500 and 8000 people living in the town. It started to grow rapidly after that period.

My family went to Our Lady's Church in West Concord. During the summer months they provided an athletic outlet. They had baseball teams and during the winter months they, both St. Bernard's and Our Lady's, had basketball teams, CYO basketball and baseball teams that most of the young people, didn't matter if they went to other churches or not, played on the teams.

When I joined the police department, everybody lived in town. It was a requirement, you had to live in town. They didn't consider you unless you lived in town or you moved into town within a very short period of being hired. When I went on, Bill Costello who later became chief of police, had come on the department three months before I did. He moved to Concord from Abington after he got on the job. Sometime later probably during 1965-1970, they changed this requirement and made it so you had to live within 15 miles of the town. Now this is the present rule and there are very few young men in the department who live in town. I would say 4 or 5 max, most of them come from other towns. That is a big change.

When I joined the police department, there was a chief, one lieutenant and two sergeants and the rest were patrolmen for a total of 17 men in the department. We were in what is the present town hall on the Bedford Street across from the St. Bernard's Church. There was a side entrance to the building and we had a main front office and one little office to the side and the chief had a private office. There were three rooms and a cell block with three cells. There was a garage in back of the building that at one time housed an ambulance and this was where the brick Middlesex Insurance building is now. It was between Joseph Dee's Funeral Home and the present town hall. This was used for storage after I came on the police department, but prior to that it had been a garage for the town ambulance. The ambulance was later turned over to the fire department, and to the present day it is over there.

The cells were in the basement of the town house, and the court house was up in the present hearing room in the town hall. As you go up the stairs, you take a right at the top of the stairs, you go down the hallway, the clerk of courts office was on the right, the probation officer's office was on the left, selectmen's office is where it is today on the left hand side and you move into the main hearing room in the town hall which was the main courtroom. On the back left-hand corner was a smaller second session courtroom and up at the far end of the courtroom was a judges chambers. The judge's bench was on the Bedford Street side of the town hall and during the warmer months there was no air conditioning in the building, and the windows would be open and traffic going by outside would get so noisy they would have to shut the windows in the courtroom. It could be sweltering hot in the summer months.

Even after we moved into the new police station in 1962, the court was still there. I don't think we moved into the present court down on Walden Street until about 1968.

We also had a firing range in the basement of the town hall. It was quite an antiquated range. It was built by the police department, it ran from east to west in the town hall in the basement. You had cranks to roll the targets back and there was a backstop at the end with sand to contain the bullets. We'd be downstairs shooting and people would be upstairs in the town hall. We were only allowed to use 22 caliber bullets down there, nothing heavier so there was not much threat of any damage or anybody being hurt.

During that time period up until probably 1968 we only had two cruisers on the police department. Most of our patrol was done on foot. We had three walking beats, one in West Concord, one in Concord Center, and one at the Thoreau Street or the depot area of town. The depot area would be covered from 8:00 at night until 5:00 in the morning. Both West Concord and Concord Center would be covered 24 hours a day by a foot patrol. The men who would be patrolling these would call in on the call box to the police station. This was prior to radios coming on the police department. The call box was located on the corner of Walden and Main Street in front of Snow's Pharmacy, and upstairs over Snow's Pharmacy was the telephone office where the telephone operator was before we switched to the present day dial system. During the evenings at times we wouldn't have anybody in the police station from 1:00 in the morning until 7:00 in the morning, and the telephone operator would take calls and turn a light on outside so we would see it, and go to the light and she would tell us where our calls where. The telephone operator worked around the clock. The operator that used to do it was Tarda Dee and her husband Phil Dee is still alive. Tarda has passed away.

The crimes are the same types of crimes in those days as they are today. There were burglaries, breaking into somebody's home and taking property. It has increased over the years mainly because the town has grown and there are more people in town, but percentage wise it is probably about the same today as it was then. The youth crimes or juvenile crimes were not nearly as prevalent then as they are today. Most times the people called the parents then rather than call the police department. Today when young people do things, they immediately get on the phone and call the police department. Crimes that are reported today probably weren't reported in those days. Kids were probably doing the same things, but they didn't get reported.

This is probably due to most people in Concord had relationships. There were a lot of extended families, the Dees, the Finans, the Finegans, my own family, that everybody knew everybody else. This was the way the town was then, and most towns were. If you want to see similar towns today, you should go up through Westminster or Ashby. They are very similar to Concord when I was growing up. Very seldom did these incidents get to the police department and when they did, they would try to settle it the same way that the family would.

I had been very active with youth throughout my career, through youth sports, baseball, football, hockey, and I had been active in boy scouting in the town, so becoming a youth officer was kind of a natural outgrowth of this. I was very interested in it, and I became very interested in drugs through the 1960s and seeing what was happening in the drug situation. It became quite scary and frightening to me and to all police officers and citizens of the town and around the country at the time. LSD was very prevalent at the time. Dr. Timothy Leary was in his heyday at Harvard University, and we seemed to run into a lot of problems with students from Harvard being involved with drugs and coming out into the town and surrounding areas, and we would run into them. I made it my business to learn and know about drugs by going to drug training schools through the drug enforcement agency in the state. I eventually became youth office and the drug liaison officer with the school department, working with the school department, and up to the present day the townwide drug counsel is still enforced in the town. We did receive a grant from the attorney general's office for $25,000 for drug education when Marion Chuan was with the school department. We applied for the grant and received it in the early 1980s and was under the Dukakis administration.

Concord was no different than any town with the drug problem. It was two fold with people coming in from the outside and began to become internal within the town. Young people saw it happening and became involved in it. The early drugs of choice were LSD and marijuana, and then it became amphetamines and marijuana, and at one time we had heroin, now it's cocaine and marijuana. Marijuana seems to be one of the constants that stayed in the drug scene all the time. As we went along in the early part of this, the department would react to situations and do something as it happened and react to it, and as we grew and learned, we became a proactive police department, as most police departments are today. We had officers going out into the community and different area youth groups with drug education and rape prevention, home invasions, home burglaries, crime prevention, safety officers going out and working with the schools on school bus safety and bicycle safety. The department has changed its whole philosophy of work from a reactive situation to a proactive situation. This is still going on today and even more so.

You have to be an advocate of the young person. There are times when people overact to juvenile crime, and you did what they wanted. They'd have every kid incarcerated and put away. It's just not possible and even within the police departments the juvenile officer had problems with his decisions and would have to stand up to a lot of officers, and say "This is the way it's going to be. I'm the juvenile officer and this is how I'm handling it." Some officers didn't like it but the chief stood behind the juvenile officer and the courts did and we were able to make it work. It's not easy to go against your colleagues and they had some pet names, "romper room", "diaper dicks" and different names, but it was all in good fun and friendly so they weren't vicious.

I think there is a lot of publicity about crime today, some of it undue from the media. They seem to think that people have to know what is happening and they print it in the paper, and they get a lot of people reading about it, young people especially read about it, and they become kind of copy cats. They see that something is happening someplace else so maybe we should do it here. I think this is prevalent through advertising, the alcohol industry advertising. They make beer drinking seem like hey, you can't go out and climb a telephone pool without drinking a beer, you can't go skiing, or you can't go to the beach without having a Coors or a Bud in your hand. This contributes to the problem. We're an open society, a free society, and I don't know how it's going to stop. It does contribute to the problem, there is no question about it.

The police logs that are available even to the local newspapers have to be sanitized to some extent, only to that information that is privileged to protect names of people who are juveniles or women who are victims of sex crimes or people who are witnesses to a crime, and call in and give their name, we can sanitize these names to protect them. Anybody who is arrested, even a juvenile, has to be entered into the daily log as a matter of law. The juvenile's name we can sanitize and keep out of the log because it is privileged information. The person who is a victim of a sex crime, we can keep their name out of the log or any known identifiers out of the log as a matter of law so they are protected from the media and the general public, so that their names don't become known. It varies from newspaper to newspaper how much they will print or the reporter who's reading the log, what they can print, but some will go and take every word of it and write it and others will just write portions of it, or they'll take the information and write a story from it. It depends on the reporter who is getting the information as to what they want to do with it. There was an incident, I noticed this year, after being out of the police department, one of the car jacking incidents that are happening. We hadn't seen too much of it in this area from what I could see in the newspaper. In fact there was not much of it happening at all. Then I believe it was the Boston Globe that did an article on it, how it's happening in New Jersey and New York and other parts of the country, then all of a sudden we have a rash of it happening here in the state, mostly in the Greater Boston area. You see it happening all the time in Tewksbury, Chelmsford, Wilmington, Burlington, Boston, and prior to that it just wasn't happening.

Bill Costello who was chief did the logs with a special style. He was a writer and he had a flair for writing, and he used to make his column. Sometimes he would put names in there but most times he would just write a story and it could be very humorous, it could be very message given depending on what he wanted to get across.

Concord is a town that has been very good to the police department. They have been a cooperative town as far as reporting crimes, being witnesses, being helpful to the police department. When you see the size of a police department and the size of a town and how many men you have on the street, there was no way they could cover the town and be every place at once. If the citizenry didn't cooperate, it just would not be possible to keep the town in the condition it is and make it safe for people. This is one of the problems they have in the cities. People don't report crimes. They become adversaries of the police rather than working with the police. I guess this is probably the adversarial system of law as it is anyway, the attorneys, courts, police, but in a town like Concord this is not necessarily so. The town and community get along very well together with the police department in working with the schools and the town citizenry.

I started as a patrolman and became a sergeant in 1962 and then became a detective and juvenile officer and inspector in 1970, acting lieutenant in 1980, and by 1987 I was a lieutenant. I retired as lieutenant from the police department in 1990. I was president of the Massachusetts Juvenile officers Association and I have a plaque acknowledging that, and I have another plaque which is the Roland Kinlock Memorial award which is given by the Massachusetts Juvenile Officers Association to somebody in the state, a police officer or a judge or a probation office, who has worked and given a lot of their time to working with young people. It's an award I always kind of dreamed about, never thinking I would get it, but I did receive it in 1987.

There's been very low turnover in our police department here in Concord. Going back in history, I'm not sure of all the history, but the first chief of police was a Mr. Craig. He started in the 1920s and I believe in the early 1930s Bill Ryan became the chief of police. His son is the present chief of the fire department, Dick Ryan. Bill Ryan became chief of police in 1953 or 1954, and then Bob Kelly became chief of police, and was chief until 1957. Then Ned or James Finan became the chief and was chief until Bill Costello became chief in 1968. From Bill it went to Bob Learmonth to the present chief, Carl Johnson, who started in 1988. The turnover has been relatively slim in the ranks of the men also. There have been a lot of long time officers. In fact John Foster just retired this past month and he had over 30 years on the police department. I retired with 37 years. Jim Ring, who is still there, has 30 some years on the force. There are a lot of officers down there with 20 years or better.

In the early days I think there were people in the same families that either served on the police or fire department. We seemed to have a lot of family members come into the department. When I came on the police department, there was Ned and Tom Finan who were brothers. Tom was a sergeant when I came on and Ned was a patrolman and became sergeant. Tom then retired and Ned was later made chief of police. There was a Jim Handley who was a sergeant and lieutenant, Paul Sweeney who was a patrolman, sergeant and lieutenant, Paul Landini who was a sergeant, Martin Yauga who still lives in Concord was a sergeant, detective and inspector, and Bob Learmonth. Bob came to the town about the same time I did in 1934 or 1935 and his father worked in the prison. He later came on the police department in 1955 also shortly after I did. He became sergeant, lieutenant and chief of police for a short time before he retired.

In fact Bob probably did one of the biggest jobs we've ever had on the police department. He was the primary planner for the 1975 bicentennial celebration for the town. He was the one that planned all the law enforcement security aspects of that celebration. During that celebration we had so many visitors to the town that day, we had 2000 police officers in the town. Bob had gone all over the state and recruited. We had them from Springfield, Lowell, Worcester, Waltham, Taunton, New Bedford, the park service police from Washington D.C. with their horse-mounted police. They had their horses stabled at Loughlin's barn on Monument Street. Bob started planning this two years prior to the celebration. We used the old Rose Hawthorne school for our headquarters during that time period and everybody was dispatched and sent out from there. It was a tremendous undertaking. There were no vehicles allowed in the town that day from outside. The only vehicles in town belonged to townspeople. We had shut the town off and had parking outside the town area and bussed people in. An hour after the parade was over, most of the visitors were gone. They were bussed back out to their cars if they could find them. Some were looking for them four or five days later. There was one group of people who stayed and demonstrated after the parade down in the center of town, but a group of police officers from Concord and the state police dispatched them on their way. The state police had their canine dogs and the demonstrators wanted nothing to do with them.

We have had a lot of celebrity events over the years especially to do with the private schools. Henry Kissinger came to town when his daughter was a student at Concord Academy, and President Kennedy's daughter, Caroline was at Concord Academy. Of course when she was there, the secret service was with her and they had an office in our police department while they were there. This was where they headquartered themselves and they were with her 24 hours a day. Of course, Caroline used to try to give them the slip. She didn't want secret service officers following her all over the place. They did a pretty good job of keeping tabs on her. When President Ford came to town during the bicentennial celebration, we had to alter a lot of plans we had made when the secret service came in, we had to follow what they wanted for the President. When Jimmy Carter came through the town after his town meeting in Clinton, again we had to work with the secret service very closely. When President Bush came up in this area after his sister's husband died in Lincoln, again we all, the local departments, worked together with the secret service to protect his motorcade. They did the same thing when Crown Prince Hirohito came over to visit the Louisa May Alcott house. Of course when we talked to the secret service, they said this won't be released to the press until the day when the Crown Prince would be here, and somehow it leaked out before then. They were supposed to come out with their motorcade and be there very quickly and leave from the Alcott house. All of a sudden the information was in the papers, and it was a lot different than it was supposed to be.

When President Kennedy was running for President, he came to the Concord Armory and gave a speech. I was part of his protection at the time and I have a letter of commendation in my file from President Kennedy. This was after he was elected. We took him from the armory over to Hanscom Field where he took a plane out. He was a real crowd getter; the crowds came to him. He was quite a man.

Senator Brooks used to come to town quite often when he was state senator. In those days Concord was very much a Republican town where today it is just the opposite. The largest block of votes from the town in the early years was Republican.

There is a tremendous amount of planning that goes into any visit from someone well known. It takes days and hours of time and paperwork and making sure everybody is going to be there, and last minute glitches come up to change the plans. There is never any of these things that go off the way they're supposed to. There are always glitches. You have to work through them and work around them.

At the 175th anniversary in 1952, I wasn't here I was in the service at the time. I guess President Eisenhower came here for that. I've heard officers talk about it. I don't think they practiced the tight security that they did later on for other presidents. Here we are just the day before Bill Clinton will be inaugurated President. Maybe he'll come to town and I'll be able to be an observer.

It was that way last year when I was the marshall for the Patriot's Day parade. I marched in the parade rather than protect it and stand beside it. It was the first time I was able to do that in all the time that I was on the police department. I was always part of the crowd control for the parade. But this was fun. It was very nice. I enjoyed it very much. I had a staff. Father John "Chip" Pierce, Bill McNally, Bob Learmonth, and Tom Graham were my honorary staff during the parade, and they were all classmates of mine in school. It was a fun day.

Mounted 18 June 2011. RCWH