Walking Beat with John Cashin: Police Chief Settles into Role
By MAX HART
As far as police chiefs go, John G. Cashin is not your average Joe.
The Bronx-born Mr. Cashin is a mild-mannered thinker with a wry sense of humor who holds two masters degrees, will fly around the world for a chance to look at an original DaVinci, and can quote T.S. Eliot as quickly as he can recite criminal law statutes. You are just as likely to find a book of Shakespeare on his desk as you might a pair of handcuffs.
And now, he is the chief of the Tisbury police department.
On Tuesday, the selectmen welcomed Mr. Cashin to Vineyard Haven at a swearing-in ceremony at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. With the aid of his own cheering section made up of family and friends, the captain from Norwalk, Conn., officially relieved acting chief Timothy Stobie of his duties.
On Wednesday, Mr. Cashin spent his first day on the job acclimating to his new office, his new officers and his new town. In an interview during a lunchtime walk along Main street, the chief sat down for a meatball sub and an iced tea and talked about the challenges of the position, his goals and his expectations - not only for his officers or constituents, but for himself.
"I am looking forward to becoming an integral part of this community and this department and doing whatever good I can for them," he said. "I want to convey that to the town, and to my officers - that I am there for them. As chief of police, I told the selectmen, I want you to look at me as sort of a consultant on public safety matters and law enforcement - I am your expert on the subject matter."
Still beaming from the previous night's ceremony that was the culmination of 25 years of service as a police officer, Mr. Cashin said becoming the Tisbury police chief was the realization of a lifelong goal to lead a department in a community just the size of his new town.
"This place is a treasure, and when the job came up, I thought, you've got to be kidding me," Mr. Cashin said. "I have been here before and always enjoyed coming to the Island. I always wanted to live in a place like the Vineyard."
But as excited as he is to discuss the job, he is equally quick to look ahead to the work he wants to do - namely the establishment of a strong and trusting relationship between the police department, the board of selectmen and the town. He is aware of the tensions and internal conflicts that have marred the tenures of previous chiefs and wants to end any existing animosity. And he said that sustaining a positive relationship with the selectmen and his officers are two of his biggest goals.
"The foundation is here for a tremendous community-oriented initiative," he declared.
Changes that Mr. Cashin envisions for the department include promoting officers to higher ranks and improving training practices. He also wants Tisbury to consider a move toward carrying less-than-lethal weapons, such as electronic tasers. Another area where Mr. Cashin hopes to make inroads is the Brazilian community. Mr. Cashin, who taught himself Spanish to communicate more effectively with the community in Norwalk, said he plans to do the same with Portuguese.
One issue common to the Island - substance abuse - is an area of expertise for Mr. Cashin, who holds two masters degrees in criminal justice and counseling. He also trained as a peer support officer for his department in Norwalk.
But it is Mr. Cashin's reputation as a strong communicator and someone who fits in among his fellow officers that he said is his biggest asset.
"I work for the town but I also work for the officers to a large degree," he said. "I really want them to understand that I want to work with them. And I don't want to be just the chief, I want to be one of the guys - shoulder to shoulder, back to the wall."
Outside work, Mr. Cashin's many interests include reading, history (he is somewhat of an expert on the psychology of Jack the Ripper), theatre and collecting antiques. He is a seasoned traveller who enjoys visiting countries for their art, whether it is flying to England for a DaVinci exhibit or to Xi'an in China to see the ancient warriors.
"I'm sort of eclectic in terms of what I like to do," he said. "I'm very big into theatre. I like film, I enjoy art quite a bit. When I travel, a lot of it has to do with art and trying to track down pieces of art that I'd like to see that I feel are important. I have theories, actually, that certain books, certain pieces of music, certain pieces of art, certain places in the world - I think it is almost a person's responsibility, if they can, to see these things.
"And I love to go fishing, so I am looking forward to that while I am here," he added.
Much of his curiosity he attributes to being the youngest of eight children. He has six older sisters and an older brother, many of whom accompanied him to the ceremony Tuesday and erupted into applause after he was sworn in. Some waved a banner that read "Hail to the Chief - Congratulations, John!"
"Family has always been important to me," he said. "And I think that is why community policing is so important to me and why my style fits in here. I'm not saying that the transition to the Vineyard is going to be easy, but I think it is going to be more in terms of learning curve - in terms of learning the nuts and bolts of the Massachusetts statutes, the policies and procedures in terms of what the officers are used to here."
For a final thought, Mr. Cashin returns to his favorite poem, written by T.S. Eliot.
"There is a stanza in The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock that starts ‘No! I am not prince Hamlet, nor was I meant to be,' and it basically goes on to say something like, ‘I am a minor player who will swell a progress or start a scene, but I am not the major hero or the major catalyst of change.' And I really related to that and I still do. I don't see myself as doing much of anything that anybody else couldn't do."