Tom Devine remembers the guy who first inspired him to follow a career path to law enforcement. It was a friendly policeman he met while vacationing with his family on the North Shore. “He let me try the lights and the siren on his cruiser, and I’d race him on my BMX bike.”
Devine said he was six years old, and when he returned to his house in Bedford, he took a black crayon and on a closet door he drew the outline of an officer, with the letters “BPD” on the hat.
Last week, a half-century later, Devine retired after more than 35 years in the business, the last 24 of them with the Bedford Police Department.
“It was a good time,” he reflected during an interview. “I worked for a lot of good people. The leadership has always been stellar, to say the least, and the men and women I worked with made it a lot easier.”
Devine had some unique experiences in security before joining the local force in 1999.
After graduating from Bedford High School in 1984, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, specializing in security. His duty took him to Griffiss Air Force Base near Rome, NY, and Osan Air Base in South Korea before his assignment to what is now known as Joint Base Andrews near Washington, DC.
“I put in for special assignments and was a security non-commissioned officer for six years,” Devine said. “I flew with everyone from the president and vice president to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Cabinet members, CIA, FBI.”
“I flew all over the world, hundreds of classified missions. I saw 42 countries,” he continued. “One year I flew 251 days.” As the sergeant in charge of security on the plane, Devine said, “I was at the bottom of the stairs, holding the manifest.” Many of the names were redundant – he recognized the famous faces.
The schedule cost him his marriage, Devine acknowledged, and after 13 years in the Air Force, “everything was stalled with advancement. I felt like I was spinning my wheels.”
So, after retiring, he took the Civil Service test for police officers in Massachusetts, and while working as an interim security officer for the U.S. Marshals in Washington, he got a card in the mail announcing that he was on top of the list for an opening in Bedford. Devine’s first day in the police training academy was April 12, 1999.
“My first chief was Jack McGrath,” Devine said, adding that he also learned from veteran colleagues like Mike Cloutier, Tom McNeany, Herb Pike, Dave Porter, John Snyer, and Cary Whelpley.
Speaking of the municipal workforce, Devine observed, “We have a really tight-knit community in Bedford. Everybody gets along – Fire, Police, Public Works. There’s no strife or backstabbing. And the people like us. I get along with everybody, from the town manager to the clerks.”
Throughout his career on the force, Devine commented, “Doing the right thing was always in the back of our minds.” He said most troubling were drug overdoses and suicides, many of them preventable. “It’s a huge thing that really bothered me.”
Devine was the point person on the force for traffic issues for a few years. “I developed a lot of friendships through that,” he related. “People who complain appreciate the one-on-one. I would listen to their complaining about certain things, and then explain that Bedford is a cut-through town and it’s just one of the things we have to deal with due to our geographic location.”
Now there are cellphone apps that provide alternate routes, which means traffic sometimes builds up on every street, he added.
“As the department’s traffic officer and founding member of the Staff Traffic Management Team, Officer Devine acted as a resource for all things traffic and bicycle and pedestrian safety to many other departments and was invaluable in coming up with creative solutions to tough problems,” said Town Manager Sarah Stanton.
“On a personal note, I have always looked forward to being able to catch up with Tom at town events to get his take on local happenings and enjoy his wonderful sense of humor and love of Bedford.”
For more than 15 years, Devine was part of the motorcycle unit of the regional consortium NEMLEC – the Northeast Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council. There were several memorable moments escorting parades of professional sports champions, he said. “Being part of those celebrations was awesome.”
Attitudes toward police have changed overall, and Devine observed, “It’s tough to have to bear that stereotype that all cops are evil. But I looked at it this way: if you are not doing anything wrong, don’t worry about what you’re doing. It’s all about the way you treat people.”
Now, Devine laughed, “Every day is Saturday.” He said he and Laura Zampell, his fiancée, will be spending a lot of time at their home near Lake Winnipesaukee. “I have a classic car and lots of errands, lots of projects.
He added that the family recently sold the house where he grew up – and the crayon drawing was still on the door.