He knew at once that he loved the work. “When I got here, it was like, ‘Wow!’ ... Every day, there’s something new that happens. Every day, there’s the opportunity to have a positive impact on people.”
The department had three cruisers and only two with radios. “We used pencils ... everything was on paper.” Officers still relied on call boxes to communicate. One of Champagne’s first calls was a hit-and-run.
“A lady lying in the street. Your instinct is in trying to keep her alive.” She went off in the ambulance, but the word came back that she had died. Efforts were made to find someone, anyone, who had seen the accident.
“Whoever hit her just hit and they were gone,” he says. All these years later, he adds, “We still don’t know who hit her.”
In 1988, a little more than a decade after coming on the job, Champagne was elevated to chief by Mayor Peter Torigian. The dramatic rise, he says, was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. The cadre of World War II officers was retiring. Chief Bobby Costello died unexpectedly.
“I tested well,” says Champagne, who is married with no children. “I studied a lot. ... I was very fortunate.”
He points to areas where he has brought the department into the 21st century, including high-tech equipment and a unique unit designed to conduct computer forensics. Peabody is where other departments send computers when they want the information they contain.
Never having used his gun on duty, Champagne notes that his officers have rarely had to use theirs. Nor have any officers been lost under his command.
“Part of it is good fortune, and part of it is by design,” he says. For example, as officers are more likely to be injured or worse in traffic accidents, they get training in how to drive.