Lt. Peter Holey joined five other officers in retiring from the Lynn Police Department (Gayla Cawley)
News, Police/Fire

Lynn Police Lt. Peter Holey, advocate for youth, has retired

LYNN — Lt. Peter Holey was one of four members of the Lynn Police Department who retired last week, with two more officers hanging up their badges this week. 

Holey, 55, who started out as an officer before moving up in the ranks to sergeant and eventually a lieutenant, said Lynn is a different city than it was when he started with the department 31½ years ago. It's been a community-wide effort to change the city's landscape in terms of reducing gang activity. 

The former football player with Boston College, who has coached youth football in the city for 20 years, with Lynn English High School and East Lynn Pop Warner, found his niche working with the city's youth and curbing gang violence. He's been head of the youth services unit for four years, which encompasses the gang unit. 

Last week also marked his retirement from coaching. 

"To me, being a cop in Lynn and coaching was intertwined," Holey said. "I didn't want to be a police officer any place else. I'm grateful for the opportunity I got here and I just found that coaching was a way to keep me balanced. It was a way for me to reach out and help kids in a positive way."  

The kids helped him as well, he said, explaining that they let him see that 99.9 percent of the youth in the city are good. "Most of the kids I coached were great kids and a lot of them rose above their circumstances." 

One of those kids was Brian Castellanos, now 29 and a member of the Lynn School Committee, who played football for Lynn English and cites Holey as one of his mentors. 

As an athlete with a difficult home life, Castellanos gravitated toward coaches, role models and father figures. He grew up in a home where money was tight and Holey was someone who was able to identify that he did struggle. 

For instance, when he was set to start playing varsity, Castellanos said his cleats were worn down, but he couldn't afford to buy new ones. Before the first game, Holey surprised him with a brand new pair of cleats. 

"That kind of compassion was so well needed. I really needed that, that type of support," Castellanos said. "After practice, he always did the little bit of extra effort to show us he cared. He did that for all of the players." 

Without that support, Castellanos said his life could have been different. He was a kid on the fence, he said, who could have ended up in prison or dead. "A lot of kids I grew up with didn't make it. I made it because of people like Peter Holey." 

It would have been easy for Holey's perception of the city's youth to be different. 

In the early 2000s, Lynn was entrenched in gang violence. There were 1,800 gang members and 22 active gangs. The department would make 700 arrests related to that activity annually. 

Today, there's fewer than 400 members and six gangs that the department is aware of, but they're not all that active, according to Holey. 

There were a lot of factors leading to the change. The Shannon Grant, which helps fund anti-gang efforts and youth violence prevention efforts, has been a game-changer. Another significant change was Lynn joining a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) gang task force at the suggestion of State Police. 

"It had worked in Boston and other communities and they thought Lynn was ripe for that type of enforcement, and really, it just changed everything," Holey said. "It took some time. The investigations were complex, but I think that turned the tables on gangs (in Lynn)." 

Federal sweeps and takedowns that Lynn Police assisted the FBI and State Police with decimated the hierarchy of gangs in the city, and, along with anti-gang and youth violence efforts through the Shannon Grant, probably served as a preventive measure for younger kids, Holey said.

"I think that a lot of the kids that were involved back then aged up and out and some of the younger kids took a second look at what was happening with the older kids that they knew going to federal prison, and (they) decided it's just not a life I want to live," Holey said. 

One youth violence prevention effort he's particularly proud of being involved with is the Teen Center at Lynn Vocational Technical Institute, a safe haven for youth, which offers free sports and activities every Friday night. Holey called it the best community policing the department does. 

Ward 6 Councilor Fred Hogan cites Holey as a mentor. He coached with him at Lynn English and recruited him to be a part of the Stop the Violence Lynn Committee. 

"I know he definitely had an impact on cutting down the gangs in Lynn, educating people on doing the right thing and the wrong thing," Hogan said. "His service to the city was unbelievable. Being a coach and a police officer, he knew how to talk with kids, (by) not being abrasive with them, (and by) teaching them to do the right thing." 

A couple of incidents made a lasting impact on Holey. 

The most traumatic response for him was on Aug. 7, 1997 when he and Officer Mike Kelter were involved in a close range exchange of gunfire on the Lynn Commons. 

Another one, he said, took his breath away. In the early morning hours of Dec. 5, 2011, a car went off the bridge into the Saugus River and was submerged. Officers John Bernard, Mike Crosby and Josh Hilton dove under the freezing water repeatedly and were relentless until they got the man out of the car and saved his life. It was one of the most amazing things he'd ever seen, he said. 

The father of three plans to take a month off and then wants to spend his retirement working with kids or the elderly in a way that's not tied to law enforcement. 

"I can look back on my career and say for the most part, it was positive," Holey said. "I am so grateful for the city of Lynn for my employment over the last 31½ years and for the citizens of Lynn for allowing me to serve them. It's been one of the great privileges of my life."

Sgt. Edward Nardone, 59, said he was very happy to be a Lynn policeman, a role he served for 32 years, but at the end of the day, what mattered most to him was the respect of his family. He started as an officer in 1987, was promoted to sergeant in 1995, and has been with the gang unit since 2008, where he served as the officer in charge.

"I have worked with some amazing people, but at the end of the day, the most important people that I have ever tried to impress are my wife and children," said Nardone, who declined further comment other than to say the best cop he's ever worked with has been Lt. Steve Downey, who died in 2004. 

Officer John Meaney, the department's traffic investigator, punched into work for the final time last Friday after 34 years. Meaney did not return phone calls seeking comment. 

Officer Charlie Griffin's retirement was effective last Wednesday after 32 years on the job. Griffin worked the night division, but had been assigned to several special units throughout his career. 

"They've had a significant impact on the department and the community," said Police Chief Michael Mageary, who added Holey, Nardone and Meaney were highly awarded throughout their careers. 

"I'm very grateful for their talents and commitment. I personally want to thank them for their years of experience and want to wish them luck in their retirement. It's difficult when you lose real quality people, but they've done their time and it's time for the new guys to step up." 

Retiring this week are Officers Kenneth Estes and Russell Gokas, who have been with the department for about three decades. 

Mageary said the six retirements bring the force down to 163 officers. He said there's about 14 recruits in the police academy who are expected to graduate next month, which will replace some of the retiring officers, but the department is still far below its optimal staffing level of 195. 

More Stories From Lynn