SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 26, 2013

Peabody interim police chief says detective work is paying off

Retired Salem chief praises department

By Alan Burke
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — Crime happens at all hours, which is why interim Peabody police Chief Robert St. Pierre has offered a new tool for the department — nighttime detectives.

And it’s already helping to pay dividends.

“There’s been a rash of robberies,” said St. Pierre. On Dec. 19, someone burst into Tedeschi on Main Street with what appeared to be a firearm. The day before, Town Variety on Central Street was robbed. Meanwhile, a victim reported an unarmed robbery and assault and battery, also on Central Street.

Arrests have already been made in two of these cases.

Of the Tedeschi robbery, he said, “Detectives solved that in a matter of a day or two.” He cited the work of Detectives Eric Ricci and David Murphy, along with Patrolmen Matthew Stark and Tony Santos.

While the store had a video camera, the robber arrived masked. According to Detective Mike Crane, it was cooperative police work between area departments that led to the arrest of Shara Clarke, 25, of Lynn. Similarities to other robberies may have been an important element in the arrest, as Peabody reached out to Danvers and Lynn.

A BB gun was seized at the time of the arrest. Even if it was the BB gun that was used in the robbery, said St. Pierre, the clerk who faced it didn’t know it was not a more potent weapon.

The robbery on Central Street, meanwhile, resulted in the arrest of Thomas Conant, 22, of 26 Endicott St., Peabody, on charges of unarmed robbery and assault and battery. A second suspect is being sought. That arrest involved Detective Ralph Scopa and Patrolmen Michael Muse and Brendan O’Brien.

“There’s good work going on here,” St. Pierre said, “and that’s something I’d like to get out to the public.” He noted in particular the cooperative relationship between his officers. “That’s what I like: detectives and patrolmen who work together.”

At 65, St. Pierre expects to help Mayor Ted Bettencourt find a permanent chief, with the search process likely to begin in January. At a time when many his age are happy to bask in the Florida sunshine, he said he’s pleased to stay on the North Shore, close to his children and grandchildren. For that matter, he’s in no hurry to finish his work in Peabody, explaining that the activity agrees with him.

“My wife says I’ve got a bounce in my step,” he said with a smile. “I enjoy the interaction in here.” He’s not expecting to make major changes and has told officers, “I’m not here to turn your world upside down.”

A friend of former longtime Peabody chief Robert Champagne, St. Pierre points to the city’s relationship with the Northshore Mall as a measure of a well-run department. With officer John Nelson working closely on a “patrol strategy” with mall manager Mark Whiting, police and security personnel have managed to pass the entire year without a single car stolen from the parking lot, he said.

St. Pierre, who served 25 years as police chief in Salem and then took an interim assignment leading Salem State University police, is an enthusiastic booster of the notion that police work is increasingly done across jurisdictions. For example, he’s already reached out to speak with Salem Chief Paul Tucker, Danvers Chief Neil Ouellette and Lynn Chief Kevin Coppinger.

He also praised recent work by detectives that involved international cooperation and a Peabody 17-year-old.

“The young girl got involved in an online relationship with a 24-year-old man in Canada,” he said. She headed north, and when her worried parents went to the police on Dec. 10, detectives Stephanie Lane and Joseph Gilroy went to work.

“They hooked up with the border patrol,” he said, and were able to have the girl returned safely to her parents.

“It made us feel good,” Lane told the chief, “because the parents gave us a big hug.”

Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.