News, Police/Fire

After almost 3 decades of service, Saugus Police Chief will retire

Saugus Police Chief Domenic DiMella reflects on his 10 years in the position as he readies for retirement. (Spenser R. Hasak)

SAUGUS — After a decade as chief of police and nearly three with the Saugus Police Department, Chief Domenic DiMella will hang up his badge.

DiMella’s last day with the department will be on Thursday.

The Malden native succeeded Chief James Mackay on Aug. 2, 2008. The challenges the police department faced at the time differ greatly from the challenges they face today.

“Back then we had nightclubs up and down Route 1,” said DiMella. “There was a lot of violence. We were outnumbered and overwhelmed.”

Saugus Police frequently called upon mutual aid to help combat the violence, but it was difficult to get ahead of the problem until the nightclubs were shut down. Police logged all incidents and reported them to the Board of Selectmen. Closing down the nightclubs was a team effort, he said.

As he prepares to step down as chief, he recognizes that his successor will face a different set of challenges, namely the opioid crisis.

“It’s a problem you can’t arrest your way out of,” said DiMella, who described a three-pronged approach that involves prevention, education, and treatment.

His best advice to the next chief: “Never forget where you came from.”

Of the accomplishments he is most proud of during his time as chief, DiMella said the department being recognized as an accredited police agency by the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission is at the top of the list.

The process requires a department to be in compliance with 246 mandatory and various optional standards involving jurisdiction of mutual aid, collection and preservation of evidence, communications, crime analysis, fiscal management, internal affairs, juvenile operations, public information, records, traffic, training, drug enforcement, victim and witness assistance, and more.

In May 2016, a team from the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission spent two days at the department, reviewing its procedures, written policies, and self-assessment. The chief was notified of the accreditation in September 2016.

DiMella said he greatly enjoyed helping people when he served as the detective lieutenant for five years before becoming chief. Whether he was getting someone bad off the street or arresting a violent abuser, it was a good feeling knowing he was helping someone who needed it, he said.

In 2002 he was among just 1 percent of police officers in the country who were chosen to attend the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va. The 11-week program included rigorous physical training and academics.

Not all days on the force were as good, but he persevered.

In 1993, he was responding to a call when he lost control of his cruiser and crashed. The engine block fell on his foot, and he suffered many other injuries, including to his head.

“I thought I was going to burn alive in there,” said DiMella, who saved a newspaper clip from the accident that included an image of the crumpled vehicle, doors torn off.

His rehabilitation included three surgeries to his ankle, but he eventually got back on his feet and back to the department.

DiMella moved to Saugus in the mid-’80s and raised his two daughters, Michelle and Christine, in town. He now lives in Lynnfield with his wife, Maureen. In retirement, he plans to spend more time with his daughters and two grandchildren, and to get involved with real estate.

Though he has spent nearly three decades in Saugus, DiMella said people in town might be surprised to know he trained in karate for 15 years and earned the rank of second-degree black belt, he is learning to golf, and he enjoys spending time at the gym.

“I’m looking forward to moving on to the next chapter of my life,” he said.

Town Manager Scott Crabtree, who has not yet named the next chief of police,  said DiMella should also be credited for his work in securing funding for training, safety equipment, bulletproof vests, children’s car seats, the life-saving opioid overdose treatment Narcan, and much more.

Crabtree said DiMella also demonstrated great empathy by partnering with Cops for Kids with Cancer to help to Saugus children who are battling cancer. He called it an honor and a privilege to work alongside DiMella in his current capacity as town manager and, earlier in life, as a Saugus police officer.

“Chief DiMella will be sorely missed,” said Crabtree. “He is much more than a police chief; he is an asset to the residents of Saugus and a longtime friend of mine. I wish him the best in this exciting next chapter of his life.”

Above all else, DiMella said the best day of his career was the day his father Nicholas DiMella, a World War II veteran, pinned his badge on him during his swearing-in ceremony.

“The pride in his eyes — it was one of my best days,” said DiMella.

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