Police chief reflects on force’s transformation
BREWSTER, Mass. (AP) — Police Chief Richard Koch Jr. jokes that if he had a retirement party, it would fit in a phone booth.
Koch, who will retire Feb. 1, is not sure many people would want to celebrate his tenure because he has not always been Mr. Nice Guy.
This is the chief, for example, who shut down Sparky’s Hayrides, a nightly sunset ride drawn by an antique John Deere tractor that has been beloved by kids of all ages for 30 years. This past summer Koch was researching the concept of satellite parking with use of Sparky’s hay wagon when he came up a law clearly stating it is illegal to pull people in trailers - except in parades, because the roads on the parade routes are temporarily closed.
“I still feel bad,” said Koch, shaking his head sadly at his Sparky crackdown, which caused a public outcry and led to a bill to change the state law regarding trailer rides. But Koch stuck to his decision.
“Chief Koch is always going to do the right thing, regardless of who is involved, regardless of who is watching and regardless of what is politically correct or not,” said Rodney Collins, former Mashpee police chief turned town manager. “When you’re in that position, you have to have mental toughness to consistently do the right thing. I know I always respected that in him.”
Or, as Koch’s sister Linda Bowes, of Quincy, said: “He has the most integrity of anyone I know.”
The chief does not tolerate bad behavior among police officers. In 2009, a Brewster officer allegedly urinated on a fellow concertgoer during a Metallica concert in Boston. Koch made it clear as soon as he heard about the incident that, if it was true, he wanted the man off the force, said Charles Sumner, recently retired Brewster town administrator.
The Brewster selectmen fired the officer, and he admitted to sufficient facts to charges of assault and indecent exposure. The charges were continued without a finding, according to court documents.
“Dick is crazily focused on the responsibility that comes with the police’s power to restrict civil liberties,” Sumner said.
Koch was hired 30 years ago as a police officer and became chief in 2006. He immediately put the department through the accreditation process, Sumner said.
Recently, Koch persuaded town meeting voters to buy dashboard cameras for the department’s police cruisers before any other department on the Cape except the Cape Cod National Seashore. He said at the time he wanted the behavior of his officers to be transparent.
There is such a spotlight on police, Koch said, it sometimes prompts officers to become a clique, to hang out only with other cops. Rates of alcoholism, divorce and suicide tend to be higher among police than in other professions, he added. The willingness of police to police themselves is critical, Collins said. When a police officer does something criminal, that behavior starts somewhere, but it would never flourish in a department run by Koch, Collins said.
Koch has always seen his duties as chief as beyond law enforcement itself. He has been involved in other town affairs, Sumner said.
Koch came up with the idea of adding nearly 100 parking spaces at Crosby Lane to answer the public desire for more beach parking in a town made up of small landings with painfully few parking spots, Sumner said. He was part of every level of discussion and planning about the town’s infrastructure repair, a process that involved surveying more than 100 roads and getting a $10 million override passed, Sumner said.
“He lives in Brewster, he loves Brewster and he’s a son of Brewster,” Sumner said.
That may be a stretch for the people of Quincy, where Koch was raised the second of seven children in a renowned family. His younger brother, Thomas, is now the city’s mayor. His father, Richard Koch, worked as a milkman until he became the longtime head of the city’s Parks Department. Their father was a “go-to guy,” said Thomas Koch.
In the 1950s, the elder Koch founded the Koch Club, a sports program for children who did not make school athletic teams. He started the Quincy Flag Day Parade, which today is the largest Flag Day parade in New England, Bowes said.
The future Brewster chief served from 1981 to 1987 on the Quincy City Council. He was a top vote-getter twice, said his brother. Many urged him to run for mayor, Bowes said.
“He quite possibly could have been mayor, and I never would have been,” Thomas Koch said. “His move (to Brewster) changed both of our lives.”
Koch always wanted to be a police officer because the police have the ability to quickly right a wrong.
“When you know something is going on that is negatively affecting people in your community and you can fix that, it’s gratifying as hell,” Koch said.
Off duty, Koch is just as active helping people, according to family and friends.
When Bowes’ husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Koch helped her more than anyone else, even though most of their siblings live nearby, she said.
When their mother, who has since died, moved into a sister’s home, Koch drove up to Quincy and reorganized the house. By the time other family members arrived to help, it was all done.
“That’s the way he is to everybody,” Bowes said. “He is strong for everybody.”
Koch is private and not prone to showy displays of affection. He has insisted he wants no retirement party. Sumner, who enjoyed several parties for his own retirement, planned nothing out of respect for Koch’s wishes.
But others were not easy to sway. Koch said his wife, Nancy, to whom he has been married for 39 years, was on the phone with family members the other night, and the upshot was there would be a party. No details yet, Koch said Thursday.
But it probably won’t be in a phone booth.
Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, http://www.capecodtimes.com