SHIRLEY -- There's a new police detective in town. But Joseph Santiago is no newcomer. Hired as a reserve officer by the former police chief in June, 2015 and later appointed as a full time patrol officer, Santiago -- who is not related to Shirley Police Chief Samuel Santiago -- came up through the ranks.
In a joint interview last week, the chief and his recently-named detective talked about the assignment and what the designation "detective" means in a small town police department like Shirley's.
First off, it's not a promotion but an assignment, the chief said, as it "always has been" since he joined the department 15 years ago. Detective Moody, for example, held the title but is now retired. There have been others, Chief Santiago said. But not recently and not on his watch.
When the chief decided to seek out someone within the department to become a detective -- a dual designation that also includes the officer's regular duties, several applications were submitted, he said. To find the best fit, he opted for a hands-off selection process that was objective as well as professional.
The Selection Committee consisted of ranking officers from three outside police departments -- Harvard, Lancaster and Littleton -- and Lt. Alfreda Cromwell, of the SPD, as advisory. After reviewing applications and interviewing the candidates, the committee recommended Santiago. "They said he best suited it," Chief Santiago said.
Detective Santiago called the interview process great, with a three-town perspective he learned from.
Asked what it means to be a detective in Shirley, compared to investigative duties any other officer might be assigned to, Chief Santiago said it involves sticking with a court case until it is resolved. "He's the court officer," he said, and as such it's his job to follow up, check in with the district attorney on the status of a traffic hearing, for instance, in which there was a traffic stop but no arrest, to make sure each case is concluded properly, either closed or with charges filed.
Noting other aspects of his expanded job description, Detective Santiago said he anticipates taking on assault and battery cases, sexual and domestic assault and breaking and entering cases. All of which the chief said happen in Shirley, frequently enough to justify a detective's focused eye. Not like in a big city like Boston, though , where there are over 2,000 cops and a relative percentage of detectives. "Here, it's a dual role," he said.
"I'm still a patrol officer," Detective Santiago said.
All of the cases likely to land on Detective Santiago's to do list fall within the purview of daily law enforcement, the chief explained, adding identify theft to the list -- but while any officer in his department is fully qualified to respond, solving crimes takes time and focus, plus specific skill sets. Crime scene investigation, for example, and fingerprint analysis, both of which Detective Santiago will take training in soon. Continuing education is part of the job.
Currently, 55 officers in Shirley have taken training to handle sexual assault cases, with certification, the chief said, including himself. Detective Santiago will get that training, too. "We'll empower him," he said. "Basically, this is a specialty."
Another area that requires extra training is the search warrant process. Getting it right, by the book, every detail intact, can make the difference in a case, the chief said. The detective agreed. "It's new to me but I'm getting it down," he said.
Joseph Santiago's career path since graduating from the Police Academy has included stints with the Federal Reserve Law Enforcement Division in Boston, the Essex County Sheriff's Dept., the Southhampton, N.H. Police Dept., where he was a reserve officer. He also worked in Newbury, MA before coming to Shirley. He considers it a significant step up and plans to continue, Santiago said. He is also a firearms instructor and field training instructor for the SPD and oversees the department's reserve officers.
Asked why he welcomed the added responsibility the detective's role calls for, Santiago said it intrigued him, making it sound like the next rung on a career ladder he'd always aspired to climb. "In my heart, I always wanted to be a police officer," he said. As for the detective's role, he was drawn to it via friends who are detectives in other police departments. "It caught my eye," he said.
Contacts like that should be helpful now. Part of a police detective's job is networking with other departments' investigators, comparing notes, sharing information. "It's really interesting work," he said.
Our town needs a detective in certain situations." He also thinks the SPD, despite discord in its recent past, is where it should be now, moving forward in a positive way. "We're on the right track," he said.
Married and the father of four, Joseph Santiago grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in the "Navy Yard" section of the city. His was a big family and it was a tough neighborhood. His background, in some ways, was similar to that of Chief Santiago, who grew up in Worcester, he said.
Although he doesn't live in Shirley, Santiago has a feel for the town, particularly its police department. "I look forward to working on a case," he said. And he's grateful for the opportunity. "I feel blessed, " he said.