By Sean Murphy/ Daily News Staff
Thursday, November 24, 2005
DEDHAM -- In 1972, Dennis Teehan, the son of a cop, got a job as a police officer in Dedham.
It was supposed to be a small step in his career, leading to a role beyond local policing, perhaps as an FBI agent.
That was 33 years ago, and since then Teehan fell in love with his hometown department, working his way through the ranks and spending 17 years as chief before deciding to retire this year.
On Tuesday, Teehan spoke about his career, his department and his future, which might include a run at local politics.
Teehan's father, Dennis W. Teehan, was a police officer in town from 1957-73, and served as part of the inspiration for his son.
"It was a great job to try and help people," the chief said.
He graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1975 with a degree in political science, and followed that with a master's in criminal justice at Anna Maria College, but by then he knew he wanted to stay in Dedham.
Teehan took over as acting chief in October 1988 and became the official chief six months later. He has seen it all, from shootings to fatal car accidents.
Looking back, he recalled many tragedies, but said a deadly incident from the late 1970s stood out. A 3-year-old girl was accidentally run over by a car driven by a teenager who had just gotten his license.
Teehan was one of the first on the scene, holding the child who later died at the hospital.
"It was just a tragedy," Teehan said, recalling his own two children. "When it's a child, it really hits home."
But there were triumphs as well. Teehan said he lobbied for many things for his department as chief, most notably portable radios for all of his officers.
In 1988, "that was unheard of," he said, but he got them, and that was a good thing for two patrol officers working a detail a year later. They were accidentally run over by a truck working construction on Providence Highway in front of what is now BJ's Wholesale Club.
One officer was knocked unconscious, and could have died of his injuries had his partner not used one of the new portable radios to call for help. Teehan said many credit the paramedics' quick response with saving both officers' lives.
"If they didn't have those radios...we could have lost that officer," he said.
The only regret, he said, was not being able to to replace the "substandard" police station at 600 High St.
But he has plenty to be proud of. When he first became an officer, he said, over 700 stolen cars were reported in town, and in 1988, the year he became chief, there were over 100 housebreaks.
In the past year, Teehan said, there have been fewer than 100 stolen vehicles, and fewer than 40 housebreaks, a sign of how much better the department is today at fighting crime. The number of officers has shrunk -- 67 officers in the 1970s compared to 60 today -- but 90 percent of them, Teehan said, now have some sort of college degree.
"That's a big factor when we hire them," Teehan said.
Now, at age 54, Teehan said retirement is not mandatory, but "I think there's such a thing as staying too long."
Teehan also tipped his hat to Lt. Mike Weir, whom selectmen have named Teehan's replacement.
Teehan recalled talking Weir into signing up as an officer back in 1972 along with himself, having no clue then that both men would still be with the department today, taking such a leadership role.
Teehan called Weir "a qualified candidate who will do a good job."
Weir "always had the ability," Teehan said, but events over the summer clinched it in the outgoing chief's mind.
After the accidental shooting of Justin Stivaletta in August, and the controversial clash between mourners and police at Stivaletta's grave days later, Teehan was criticized for a lack of leadership.
But Teehan knew Weir was stepping up, keeping tabs on his department's conduct and publicly approaching the press to defend the officers' actions. Teehan said he was watching to see how well Weir handled the situation, and Weir's conduct made Teehan sure who he wanted his successor to be.
"That's when I knew Mike Weir could do the job," he said.
Weir will take over the department Jan. 2. Meanwhile, Teehan said he will be working security at a federal courthouse in Boston, after taking a month or so off.
Teehan also hinted at a possible run for office. He declined to commit to anything, saying only "I'm considering it," but said he might run for selectman in Dedham at some point.
Sean Murphy can be reached at 781-433-8337, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org