ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Anna Garabedian and Charlie Boghosian meet with Lynn Police Chief and Essex County Sheriff candidate Kevin Coppinger on a campaign stop at the Danvers Council on Aging.
By THOMAS GRILLO
LYNN — Kevin Coppinger never considered a career other than law enforcement.
Lynn’s police chief is a third generation cop. His father was a captain, his uncle was a detective and his great-uncle was a vice squad detective during Prohibition.
“It’s in the blood,” he said. “I always wanted to be a police officer.”
Today, Coppinger, 59, is one of four candidates seeking to replace retiring Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins. He faces Republican Peabody City Councilor Anne Manning-Martin and Independent candidates Mark Archer, an attorney and former state trooper, and retired Essex County Commissioner Kevin Leach of Manchester-by-the-Sea, in the November election.
The Essex County Sheriff’s Department oversees people awaiting trial as well as inmates convicted of crimes. There are about 1,850 prisoners under the sheriff’s custody.
In addition to the House of Correction in Middleton, the sheriff operates the facilities and offices in Lynn, Salem, Lawrence and Salisbury employing 620 people. The department’s budget is $66 million and the sheriff serves a six-year term and earns $152,000.
At 59, Coppinger recalls the stories his dad, Joseph Coppinger, told about the job. Like the time his team captured Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo. That case ended in Lynn after DeSalvo was arrested at Simons Uniform. The Strangler terrified Greater Boston in the 1960s and DeSalvo admitted to the rape and murder of 11 women. And then there was a shootout with a suspected bank robber in the 1970s.
“DeSalvo’s picture was on the front page of the Herald and my dad was right next to him,” he recalled. “And I still have the shell casings that he fired at the bank robber at the old Lynn Hospital.”
Coppinger, a Lynn native, took his first job as a patrolman in 1983 at the Lynnfield Police Department where the work mostly involved traffic enforcement. Two years later, he joined the Lynn police force.
“When I transferred to Lynn, people said ‘what the hell are you doing?’” he said. “But if you’re a doctor, you don’t want to practice medicine in the backwoods of Maine where there are no patients.”
While Lynnfield has less crime, Coppinger said he felt safer in Lynn.
“I am used to Lynn’s urban environment, my radar is up,” he said.
On his first night on the job, he and his partner were sent to the Highlands neighborhood to break up a fight.
“In Lynnfield, I could have called another cop if there was trouble, but in Lynn that night I had my partner and six others arrived as backup. There’s safety in numbers.”
In 2009, Coppinger became chief and he noticed how police training has evolved.
“When I became a cop, I got the duty belt which included a gun, nightstick, pepper spray and handcuffs,” he recalled.
“Today, the emphasis is on de-escalation, officers are taught to use their verbal skills, go in soft, not like a barbarians and try to talk it out. I tell my guys we don’t pay you to fight, we pay you to enforce the law and ensure public safety.”
He also noted how technology has changed the job for patrolmen.
“Today’s officers can do so much with technology,” he said. “They use their phones on the street to text, take pictures and send them back to the station. It’s more efficient and productive.”
While Coppinger said he has had a great career in Lynn, he’s ready for a new challenge. He said the sheriff’s office can do more.
“Are we getting most bang for the buck?” he said. “I think we can do better with the programs in the jail and expand them.”
The sheriff’s office should be move involved in the so-called drug courts that were established to provide intensive, supervised probation and mandatory treatment, as well as random drug testing with progress monitored by a supervising probation officer.
“These people who are addicted have been dealt a bad hand,” he said. “A judge can send them to a detox center and if they dry out and get their act together, they can be released on a bracelet to the community, if not, they must compete the rest of their sentence.”
Thomas Grillo can be reached at [email protected].