METHUEN — In a city where the population in 2004 was almost 45,000, Joseph E. Solomon keeps a close eye on the citizens of Methuen as chief of police. Born and raised in Methuen, the chief takes pride in the law enforcement the department provides for the city.
How long have you been chief?
Three and a half years.
What is your personal goal in law enforcement?
That’s a good question. I guess over my career I’ve had different goals. When I first started my goal was to be the best police officer I could become and move up through the ranks and I was successful enough to do that. So right now, my goal in law enforcement would be to provide the best public safety that we can for our citizens and to maintain safe environment for my officers to work in.
What is the strangest call the department has received since you’ve been chief?
We get a lot of strange calls. What we get that is strange and sometimes may seem comical, but I know what is frustrating to people are things like ‘My neighbor didn’t rake his lawn and the leaves blew across the street and they’re in my yard. Can you go ask my neighbor to rake his yard?’ A call like that seems to be a little strange. But we do respond to them and we talk to them, because I believe the little things that are the quality-of-life issues affect everyone dramatically.
What’s one of the scariest ones?
The most scariest ones we had to deal with, up until recently, was a call that a man had backed up into a pile of leaves and drove over his daughter and his step-daughter. And you would think of someone saying “scary” to the police that we would be thinking about someone with a gun or a knife, but those are the things that we train for, so it’s not scary to you because you’re running through what you should do. Going to this, and I went to this one, was “Oh my God what am I going to see and how am I going to deal with what I see?” That to me is just terrible. The most scariest one we went to since I have been here is when we had the woman trapped in the car. The officer called for help because he now became trapped up to his chest in mud. That just sent fear through everybody, that not only was there an injured person but we might lose an officer. So, those two are kind of tied right up there at the top.
What is something citizens may not know about the Methuen Police Department?
We try to get the message out all the time, but sometimes it’s difficult. One of the biggest assets we can be for the public is crime prevention. The biggest thing that goes underutilized is the Neighborhood Watch meetings. We have a lot of them and we do get them up and going, but if you look at a community our size we could be doing many more. So what we try to do is do the crime-watch meetings so we get all the neighbors together and get involved in the National Night Out, which is the first Tuesday in August. We come out; we bring McGruff, Sparky the Fire Dog and visit anyone who is having a neighborhood meeting. It’s just one big block party.
Would you say one of the most frustrating things in Methuen is the traffic?
Traffic in general is a major frustration to us all in the city, not only to the residents but to the police. It’s an outgrowth of the phenomenal amount of traffic on our roads, like Route 28. The counts from last summer was 18,000 cars a day in each direction. We did Pleasant Valley Street by the Loop, and there was 14,000 cars a day. You look at those numbers and you say that is just phenomenal and it’s not what the streets were built for. Route 93 and 495, I know you say we don’t travel those, that’s not part of our city, but over 100,000 cars a day (travel) in each direction and (Route) 213 is 93,000. Now if there’s that many cars driving down those streets, those people are coming to our city also. Traffic is a major frustration, but the biggest problem right now in this city would be the Route 93 rotary for traffic congestion. And we are trying to work through trying to get that done. The state is working on a plan to do something about the rotary and changing it to a four-way intersection.
What towns does Methuen have a working relationship with?
What happens if there is a border call including Dracut — because we border Dracut also — we communicate with those departments and those departments communicate with us. We team up with those departments a lot, usually with Dracut and Lawrence. Dracut mostly because of bad accidents on 110 and 113. Lawrence because of anything that is coming over the line. We have made a concerted effort to reach out to all the departments. Traditionally in Methuen there was no real communication with Haverhill or Salem, N.H. My administration reached out to them right in the beginning and we now have working relationships with Salem, N.H., and Haverhill.
Since you have been chief, has the crime rate in Methuen increased or decreased?
In 2002–2003, we saw some crime categories drop as much as 50 to 60 percent, but one crime that seems to be on the rise is domestic violence. It just seems to constantly increase. And it’s hard to get into people’s houses to try and solve those crimes. So that is one of those crimes that we haven’t been able to get our hands on. And unfortunately since September this whole Merrimack Valley has been inundated with house breaks and business breaks, which has really skewed some of our crime numbers to show that crime is increasing. But in all the other categories, we have seen significant decreases.
What is your message to the citizens of Methuen?
We are here to help you and to serve you. If there is anything we can do for you, please let us know. As in any profession, we can’t be perfect 100 percent of the time, so if you have an issue with the way we responded to a call or if you think we should have done a little bit more, by all means call the police station, ask for the operations commander; it’s (978) 983-8680. Ask for the officer in charge or the operations commander. They will do everything they possibly can to resolve the issue and if they can’t, just ask to speak to the next person. My message is we want to give you good service but we need feedback. We want to know what you think. Drop us a letter, and address it to the chief’s office. I’d be more than happy to read it, and I will give it to the appropriate commander to respond to you. Unfortunately we do get a lot of communication, so if I responded to every letter, you would not hear from me in a timely manner. This way one of my four captains will get back to you. We have an open department and we’re here to help you.