Equipment is kept up, as well. The department is geared to “working smarter.” They’ve earned multiple accreditations.
There have been low points, Champagne concedes. In the 1990s, officers working paid details at the Golden Banana strip club became enmeshed in a federal investigation of things like witness tampering and tax evasion. Tensions between officers reached a dangerous point.
“It was a difficult time for both my officers and the city,” the chief says. “Good people made bad mistakes.” He accepts blame. “If I’m the guy on top, the buck stops here. I should have known.”
It was the springboard, however, for positive changes, he believes. “The organization grew and grew quickly to have much higher standards.”
Later, Champagne saw Lt. Edward Bettencourt prosecuted criminally for looking up the civil service test scores of fellow officers. That could have created major problems last January when Bettencourt’s son became mayor. The chief, however, has nothing but praise for “Teddy Bettencourt” and denies any tension.
“I’ve served four mayors,” he says, citing Michael Bonfanti, as well. “Each one shared an enthusiasm for keeping the city safe and for unwavering support for police officers.”
Champagne sees police work now as he saw it in the beginning, more about helping others than the cops and robbers depicted on TV. “It’s not so much about crime fighting as about connecting to people.”
And when tempers are at the breaking point, when emotions boil over, that’s often when police are asked to step in.
“Cops tend to be the voice of reason,” Champagne says.