Shirley Police Chief Samuel Santiago

SHIRLEY — The new police chief plans to continue to do what he has done for the past 14 years: serve the community.

“We’re not law enforcement officers,” Chief Samuel Santiago said. “We’re police officers.”

“Our focus is the taxpayers,” Santiago added. “Who pays your salary?”

The department deals with everything from speeding complaints to issuing permits for door-to-door solicitors. Educating residents, especially senior citizens, is a priority.

“We’re here to protect and serve,” he said.

The 14-year veteran was appointed chief in July. He became acting chief in February when former chief Thomas Golden was placed on paid administrative leave during an investigation. He began in Shirley as a patrol officer, was promoted to sergeant and then graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in human services from Springfield College.

The chief’s office was still being prepped for its new occupant the first week in August. The walls of the sergeant’s office he was still using were covered with evidence of his varied interests.

Shadow boxes with badges he has found while antiquing hung beside motorcycle memorabilia. A double photograph of his daughter was behind his desk.

He wants people to get to know him and the other members of the police force.

“We have to build relations with the community,” he said. June’s police and pizza night is just one way that Santiago plans to connect with the community.

He plans to hold coffee with a cop or coffee with the chief to give residents a chance to come in and chat.

“It doesn’t have to be the problem of the day,” he said. Someone might want to come in and just talk motorcycles, a particular interest of 44-year-old Santiago.

His earliest experiences highlight the importance of good policing and community relations.

As a child, the Worcester resident lived in Great Brook Valley, a community where many distrusted and feared the police. In 1979, when his uncle Angel Rosario was on the Housing Authority Police, the housing project erupted in a riot.

His uncle is now the director of public safety for the Worcester Housing Authority.

Santiago pointed out a tie between his family and the town he serves. Rosario was a classmate of retired Shirley Chief Paul Thibodeau at the Worcester Police Academy. Thibodeau retired in 2009.

Santiago’s family later moved within Worcester and his mother and grandmother remain in the city. He has two children, Marcelle, 19 and 16-year-old Yasmin.

Family and his heritage is important to Santiago. His mother was born in Puerto Rico. He knows he is the only Latino chief in central Massachusetts and thinks he might be the only one in Middlesex county.

When asked if he was the first in his family to graduate from college, he first mentioned his 35 cousins. Among his siblings, he is the first graduate.

He also speaks the best Spanish among the cousins, he said. His mastery of his childhood tongue means that other communities call on him to translate.

Santiago is heading a department that has faced turmoil over the past year. He plans to work on repairing relationships within the department.

Goulden, the former chief, resigned in June after months of paid administrative leave. Sgt. Alfreda Cromwell was demoted and then fired by the Board of Selectmen after allegations of misbehavior in November.

Her claims of discrimination resulted in a probe of the former chief.

The department faces another challenge; it is short staffed. There is no sergeant and a patrol officer position is vacant.

“We have to get past everything,” Santiago said. “It’s time to move forward. With me, you know what you get.”

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.