Great pride in Nashua police

I’ve worn many hats since taking my first paying job at the ripe, old age of 16.

For a whopping $1.25-an-hour ($50 a week before taxes), I spent the summer of 1965 oiling soles at the former Sportwelt Shoe Co. on Lake Street. Back then, leather soles were dyed black by dipping them in a big vat of oil. I didn’t return the next summer and, instead, sought fame and greater fortune as grocery bagger at the former Grand Union Champagne’s on East Hollis Street.

I’ll spare you my resume covering the 51 years since, other than to say if one day my obituary is published on these pages, it will more closely resemble a major adventure novel than a death notice.

However, I do want to talk about a job I held with the Nashua Police Department beginning in 1999. I was not a cop, and I only stayed about a year before moving on, but I came to appreciate the men and women who are sworn to serve and protect the people of Nashua.

Technology and procedures have probably changed over the past 16 years, but back then dispatchers worked in one room and "call takers" worked in an adjourning room. I was one of the department’s call takers.

People calling to report a crime or requesting police services actually spoke to a call-taker, not a dispatcher. It was the call-taker who entered the complaint into the computer. Once entered, it popped up on the dispatcher’s computer screen and the dispatcher would then roll a cruiser to the address in the complaint.

Domestic violence calls were the worst. Many times there were weapons in the house, or the caller had been brutally beaten. The victims were scared, perhaps injured, and extremely emotional. Our job was to stay calm, keep the caller on the line, gather critical information for relay through the dispatcher to the officers and reassure the caller that police were on the way. One night I had two such calls back-to-back.

We usually had three call-takers on evening shifts. If short staffed, a patrol officer would be assigned to help take calls. The officer who frequently filled in was also the department’s photographer.

On the nights he filled in with us, he organized and catalogued photos he’d taken at murders, autopsies, accidents and suicide scenes. They were often graphic to an extreme and most people would find them disturbing.

Now, if you ever heard a couple of cops joking around, you’d probably think they were sick or deranged. Having seen what these officers see in the course of doing their job, I fully understand that their seemingly "sick" humor is their way of dealing with the ugly side of what they experience.

Law enforcement officers often refer to their profession as the "brotherhood in blue," and there’s a good reason for that. They are the only ones that truly know and understand what another "brother" or "sister" officer feels.

The days when Nashua might have one murder every few years is long past, as is much of the Nashua I remember growing up in. Nashua was a pretty quiet place back then. That’s not the case today, and the city’s law enforcement officers are seemingly dealing with murders and other serious crimes, an explosion of illegal drugs, the reality of gangs and more everyday.

No thanks to the mass media, police have gotten a bad rap in recent years because of incidents in places like Baltimore and St. Louis. Increasingly, police cannot do their jobs out of fear of the possible fallout from their actions. Despite the negative way the nightly news tries to portray police officers, most are good guys, doing a difficult job under trying circumstances. And most also have a heart.

I will never forget one Sunday night when I was taking calls at the police department and police and fire units were dispatched to a house fire. We could monitor the police radios in the communications center so we were hearing the radio traffic from the fire.

A small child was found unresponsive in the house and was being carried in the arms of either a firefighter or police officer to an ambulance.

The person carrying the child was trying without success to revive the child. I heard an officer say over the radio the child was not breathing and appeared to be "gone."

As he said it, I could hear him fighting back his tears.

Nashua native Paul Sylvain’s column appears the second Sunday of the month. He can be reached at