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Police Chief John Ferraro's retirement is 'an end to an era'

Date: 7/3/2012

July 4, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs


CHICOPEE — When Chicopee Police Chief John Ferraro Jr. describes himself as "low key," he is not kidding.

Many times over the last 13 years when this writer was taking a photo involving a police appointment or promotion, Ferraro would come over and say in his distinctive deep voice something to the effect, "I don't need to be in this photo. Be sure to get the officers."

Ferraro's reaction to the response of the announcement that he is retiring after 35 years on the Chicopee force and almost 20 years as chief falls right in line with his personality on the job. He told Reminder Publications that he is "almost embarrassed by all this publicity."

He added, "I'm not seeking publicity." There will be no huge party or send-off, Ferraro said. The most he could envision is a small gathering at a local country club later in the summer.

Ferraro made the announcement on June 26 to his men and women that he had filed his retirement papers with Mayor Michael Bissonnette. Bissonnette said he had known the chief had been thinking about retiring and four years ago asked him to stay on longer.

Bissonnette called Ferraro's departure as "the end of an era."

He added, "[Ferraro has been] the perfect bridge between the old 'cop on the beat' and the modern era of law enforcement, Chief Ferraro leaves after a 35-year career with the thanks and respect of a grateful city."

Ferraro admitted he has "very mixed feelings. I think anyone would." He added, though, "the demands of this job take a toll on you mentally and physically."

A native of Springfield's South End, Ferraro's family moved to Chicopee when he was a child. He attended Holyoke Catholic High School — "I was a wild kid," he said. After high school, he entered the Marines. Subsequently he joined the police department.

"I feel very blessed in one lifetime to have worn the two best uniforms I think that's out there: the U.S. Marines and the Chicopee Police Department," he said.

During his career, Ferraro served under nine mayors all of whom were supportive of both him and the city's effort to preserve public safety, he said.

Ferraro said the biggest changes in policing during his career have been with technology. He noted the retrieval of data today now takes about "seven seconds." When he was an officer, a Teletype device they had took "15 minutes to get the tape into the machine."

Technology has "created a layer of safety" for officers, he added.

One of the negative changes is that society has changed. He recalled how a call to a bar fight used to mean officers had to break up a brawl. He said a beat cop could calm down the participants, perhaps give them a break and not arrest them and the result would be a phone call of thanks the next day.

Today, with the prevalence of weapons, officers are never sure what will happen when they answer a call. Ferraro noted the death of his friend Holyoke Officer John DiNapoli and the recent slaying of Springfield Officer Kevin Ambrose.

"I worry at night if my officers are safe. I'm fortunate we've not lost anyone," Ferraro said.

"As much as an honor it was to lead the men and women of the Chicopee Police Department, it was a greater honor that they wanted to follow me," he said.

Ferraro has no specific plans for retirement, but he stressed he was not leaving the area and plans to do volunteer work. He also intends to spend more time with his family.

Bissonnette said he would make an announcement about an interim chief and a search for a permanent replacement.

Members of the City Council said at their meeting on June 28 they want to honor Ferraro with a citation.

When asked if he would have any advice for his successor, Ferraro thought for a moment and said, "Do everything you can to help people. This is a service organization as much as a law enforcement organization."

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