Municipal Spotlight: Chief Daigle to Retire Served for 23 Years as Bellingham’s Chief
Bellingham Police Chief Gerry Daigle will be retiring on May 31 after a 39-year career in public safety.
By KEN HAMWEY,
Bulletin Staff Writer
When Police Chief Gerry Daigle retires on May 31, it will definitely signal the end of an era in Bellingham.
The 64-year-old Daigle, who’s been the town’s chief for the last 22¾ years, will step down after 39 years of fulltime duty in the department.
Appointed as Bellingham’s chief in August, 2000, Daigle has seen lots of changes in policing since that time. And, the Bellingham native has also seen the town grow rapidly, starting in 1978 when he began his career in public safety as an auxiliary police officer.
“Five events led to adjusting our style and delivery of policing,’’ Daigle noted. “They were the 9-11 attack at the World Trade Center, the anthrax scares, the Washington, D.C., highway sniper attacks, COVID-19, and police reform due to recent legislative changes.
“Extensive re-training resulted. We deviated from traditional policing and had to learn about chemicals (anthrax). COVID-19 and police reform have led to a more cautious approach to policing. New regulations occur periodically, making it mandatory that every officer undergoes a week of in-service training annually that deals with updates on legal issues, firearms, CPR, etc. Under the changes, this info. on training and discipline is entered into a statewide database to verify that all officers are currently certified to be a police officer in Massachusetts.’’
Daigle believes that the current atmosphere towards policing has limited the numbers of those seeking law-enforcement careers. “It has scared many potential recruits away,’’ he said. “That’s unfortunate, because it’s still a noble career.’’
Daigle has experienced good, bad and difficult times linked to public safety.
“The best part of being chief was leading distinguished men and women,’’ he emphasized. “It’s been great to see them advance and mature into very good police officers.
“A joyful occasion occurred in 2015 when the new $6.5 million station was dedicated. That was my top priority, because there was a definite need. It’s been a great morale booster, and it decreased the aggravation we previously dealt with on inspections. I patiently waited for it to become a reality, but it’s been worth the wait.’’
The chief says difficult times arise when the department deals with death.
“We’re a small town, so we get to know a lot of people and families in the community,’’ he said. “Deaths from suicide, drug overdoses and fatal accidents are difficult, because it’s tough to see people we know lose their lives.’’
Budget times aren’t life or death situations but Daigle says “they’re like roller-coaster rides.’’
“There have been ups and downs in budget sessions,’’ he offered. “Sometimes the process goes smoothly and other times they’re difficult. I’ve been short as much as 25 percent of my staff. That leads to juggling and restructuring our mode of operation.’’
One regret Daigle has during his two-plus decades as chief is the cold case murder of Theresa Corley. “Her death happened in 1978, 22 years before I became the chief,’’ he recalled. “Her body was found on the side of Route 495. I regret that we weren’t able to bring closure for that family.’’
The chief gets high marks for working with other town boards and his stance on keeping retail marijuana shops out of Bellingham.
“Working with other departments is crucial,’’ he said. “It’s important to have a positive relationship because so many aspects of residents’ lives can be affected. On the marijuana issue, my position hasn’t changed. It can be grown here and distributed to other areas, but I don’t want it sold in town. I’d be a hypocrite if I said retail sales are okay when I have officers teaching the dangers of drug abuse to kids in school.’’
When Daigle became chief, he directed a staff of 26 employees. When he leaves next month, the number will be 27. They include 2 lieutenants, 7 sergeants and 18 patrolmen (one recruit arriving soon).
One concern Daigle has about the police department’s future is the impact that excessive residential and commercial growth will create. “The town’s growth and expansion will have an effect on our service,’’ he said. “More manpower will be needed, more streets will have to be patrolled, there’ll be more businesses to check and there’ll be more emergencies to respond to.’’
Excluding parking tickets and speeding infractions, Daigle says the most frequent police calls now are for house break-ins and the theft of catalytic converters from autos.
Daigle attended Assumption School before graduating from Bellingham High in 1976. He has three college degrees in criminal justice — associate degree (Dean College), bachelor’s (Westfield State) and master’s (Anna Maria College).
His ascent to chief began as a member of the Auxiliary Police Force (1978-1981). He became a part-time police officer from 1981-1984 and spent part of 1985 at the police academy. From 1985-1992 he served as a patrolman and became an acting sergeant for one year before becoming a sergeant from 1993-2000. He had a brief appointment to lieutenant before taking the chief’s job in 2000.
Daigle and his wife Jane have three sons who work in public safety — Patrick is a police officer in Blackstone; Peter works in corrections in Walpole; and Matthew is a correction officer in Shirley.
Daigle’s parents both worked for the town. His father, Gerry Sr., was highway superintendent and his mother, Phyllis, was a school cafeteria worker.
As he prepares to step aside, Daigle, who is willing to assist in the transition to a new chief, says he’s pleased he worked for Bellingham’s residents. And, he’s grateful to all those who’ve stopped by the police and fire departments to drop off food or desserts “in appreciation for our efforts.’’
“I hope the community takes a good look at the men and women who protect them on a daily basis,’’ he said. “They work hard and we should be proud of them. I know that as the department’s chief, we weren’t perfect but I believe we did a commendable job to keep people safe.’’
Daigle plans to start his retirement by taking a few months off, possibly seeking part-time employment, spending time with his family and assisting his 92-year-old mother.
Gerry Daigle’s retirement – the end of an era.