2015: Another Year on the Books

CCB MEDIA PHOTO Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings

Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings

Twenty-fifteen brought mountains of snow early, steady progress during its mid months, and ended with an emphatic reminder that while our mission is foremost to run a jail it extends beyond that.

All that snow seems like it was last year, but the calendar tells us otherwise. Nary a flake fell until that thrilling Patriot Super Bowl win in February. But after that, boy, did it ever. The biggest impact here was getting to work in blizzard conditions, a challenge our men and women in blue are always up to.

We did have someone who’d just finished her inmate visit wander off during one of those blizzards, but our on-duty people mounted a quick and successful search. She was found in the nearby National Cemetery woods, prompting me to nominate our ad hoc rescue team for a Red Cross life-saver award. That ceremony will be held in April.

We also dispatched inmate work crews for emergency snow duty. They shoveled out hydrants in Bourne and neighboring towns and did the same for an aging Bourne library, whose roof was in danger of collapsing. Another roof, a senior housing complex in the shadow of the Bourne Bridge, got the same treatment, and our snow crews also helped clear parking spaces in Yarmouth so the St. Patrick’s Day parade could go on.

The entire effort, meanwhile, was but the tip of a larger iceberg. As I write this, inmate work crews have just pounded the final nail in another productive year of assistance to towns and non-profits on Cape Cod. More on that when the final numbers are compiled in the next few weeks, but I’m guessing the donated inmate labor will once again come close to a half million dollars. Have hammer will travel.

Twenty-fifteen was also the year we started our push to get a Level 1 trauma center on Cape Cod. The need for that surfaced again when a Bourne patrolman had to be airlifted to a Providence hospital after suffering severe gunshot wounds. He survived and is on the mend, but time was lost in a situation when every second can matter. (There are Level 1 trauma hospitals in Boston, too, but that’s an equally time-consuming haul.)

In March, I sat for a lengthy personal interview with Prime Time, a glossy monthly magazine published by The Cape Cod Times. If there’s an excerpt worth sharing, maybe it’s this one:

“As sheriff [compared to, say, a warden at a large penitentiary] Jim can get to know people and see their lives changing and he has the programs and statistics to back it up.

“The national recidivism rate is 62 percent but not at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility. Graduates of Residential Substance Abuse Treatment, the RSAT program, are only 20 percent as likely to end up back in prison. They learn decision-making skills, including how to think out the ramifications of their actions. There’s no fooling around, Jim explained. ‘If they break the rules, they’re out.’ ”

In April, just as the snow was finally beginning to melt, our uniformed force received a roll-call visit as rich in symbolism as the cookies that came with it. Jena Brown, wife of a Dennis police officer, had taken the time to bake dozens of small cookies to drop off with our COs and deputies. It was part of a law enforcement appreciation campaign she was waging on Cape and included similar “sweet tooth” stops at PDs here on the peninsula.

I wrote about it in a later monthly column that compared today’s anti-law enforcement mindset with an even more virulent strain that infected the 1970s and 80s: “Jena’s gesture may be small, but it’s also a heartening sign that the good guys and their supporters are answering back this time. As memory serves, the pushback four decades ago was far more tepid.”

April also brought some badly needed reinforcements for our officer class, attenuated as always by resignations, new assignments, retirements, and job opportunities arising elsewhere. They began as 16 raw recruits, we put them in khaki uniforms, they spent a dozen weeks learning the “ins” and “outs” of corrections, and here they are – manning the ramparts along with their veteran brethren.

Spring also brought a new addition to the front office: a three-man film crew which has eagerly added this new duty to its plate.

Three finished products are now posted on U-Tube: The first is two inmates telling homeowners how to thwart the kind of break-ins they perpetrate; the second is a press conference where I was able to expose an immigration glitch that prevents sheriffs from detaining illegal criminal aliens who make bail; and the third is two different inmates explaining the appalling depths to which opiate addiction has taken them (sharing a bedtime couch with a colony of cockroaches would be one that got my attention).

The newest video, a life-saving 911 call to our dispatch center and originating in Wellfleet, rolls out any day now.

July is always a great month because I get to recognize some of the hardworking folks who keep our ship running full steam ahead. The occasion is our annual employee awards ceremony, a cast we recognized for promotions, perfect attendance, and milestone years on the job. That and awards for exemplary service (Peter Benson and Dan Lynch), lifesaving (a solid dozen), distinguished service (Jen Sheehan), and tops in our correctional (Brian Garvey), public safety (James Thomas), and support/front-office (Muriel Homer) divisions.

Several initiatives were not so much monthly or even seasonal, but stretched virtually the entire year. And they remain ongoing.

Our acclaimed series of anti-breaking and entering seminars would be one such. To complement the inmate video mentioned earlier, we enlisted our Bureau of Criminal Investigation chief to present all manner of tips for thwarting potential home burglars. The presentation appeared in almost half of the Cape’s 15 towns, ranging from Bourne (other side of the bridges) to Wellfleet.

We’ve also taken steps to reduce drug smuggling, which has become a bigger problem than ever as the heroin epidemic continues unabated. Step one was introducing a B-SCAN full-body device in the booking area of the jail. It is much like scanners used at airports, prisons, and similar high-risk locations. Weapons are also easier to detect.

Step two was been to employ our K9s to sniff at random, unannounced times in booking. We favor times when incoming inmate traffic is highest, that being late afternoon into early evening. The measures also have a deterrent value because guess which grapevine was first to pick up this news? If you guessed Cape Cod’s criminal class, you guessed right. Why bring drugs into a place they’re liable to be detected?

We were able to move the ball downfield on another important front in 2015: Getting a new emergency communications center built, its likely site being right here on BCCF grounds in Bourne. State funds are being used now to pay for the research, information gathering, and other site planning requirements that always pre-date actual construction.

My September appointment to Governor Charlie Baker’s statewide 911 working group enhances the odds of an expanded center being built in the not-too-distant future. We’ll keep our eye on that ball in 2016, for sure, with a reminder that the need for a larger regional center (an earlier pre-requisite step) has already been demonstrated.

Speaking of His Excellency, Gov. Baker made it down for a year-end tour and briefing to get a first-hand look at a drug called Vivitrol. It’s now been shot-injected into more than 180 inmates and the early results look promising. For most inmates, about 70%, their craving for alcohol and opiates was eliminated or much reduced. It also produces no high and has zero street value, so the downside associated with competitor drugs largely evaporates.

The governor left favorably impressed and now joins a groundswell of others. They includes those following our lead (sheriffs in this and 11 other states), have heard our message (a half dozen national treatment and law enforcement groups), or have read about our success (in more than a dozen media outlets in state and national markets).

Thanks to top-notch and well synchronized treatment and security staffs, we’ve made our facility a place where programs like this can be hatched, incubated, and bloom into something others have now adopted. Even the White House’s drug policy office is on board.

The governor’s December tour was followed by more good news closer to month’s end. Our new 31-foot patrol boat arrived mid-month, thanks to a $446,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Makes sense, I think, when you consider the Cape’s 560 miles of coastline and 900+ square miles of adjacent open water. (No other Bay State sheriff’s office comes close to that and a half dozen counties are fully landlocked. To these inland six, which consume more than half the Bay State’s landmass, a lake or pond is their ocean.

The new boat has special equipment to detect the presence of radiation but it can also perform more conventional missions. We will work closely with the Coast Guard, Homeland Security’s primary enforcement arm on the high seas, to determine best uses. But it’s already fair to say the boat’s potential missions are wide ranging. Search, rescue, its value as a deterring presence, recovery, apprehension of nautical drug smugglers or others with illicit cargo – the capabilities are obvious.

We also have two seasoned skippers, drawn from our talented ranks, who will handle navigating duties as missions arise. Lt. John Doherty and Deputy (and Coast Guard veteran) Shawn Pollard will be at the helm, at least for starters. Both have the requisite captaincy licenses and – pardon the pun – boatloads of experience. Boarding parties will consist of SRT members, now due for nautical-mission training.

Thus concluded 2015, a year when an already full-service sheriff’s office expanded another notch. With thanks as always to all who made it so productive.

Until next time . . .

By Sheriff James Cummings

Life-Saving 911 Audio/Video

A life-saving 91l call involving a Barnstable County Sheriff’s emergency dispatcher, Wellfleet fire paramedics, and a frantic but ultimately cooperative caller:

The positive outcome hinged on the woman’s willingness and ability to follow the dispatcher’s instructions on how to do CPR press compressions on her 66-year-old husband. He was unconscious and undergoing a massive heart attack when the call came in.

The tape ends with the arrival of paramedics, who listeners will hear resuming lifesaving efforts from there. “Every minute, even every second, can count in situations like this,” says Sheriff Jim Cummings. “If the woman had simply made the call and waited for the ambulance to arrive, I fear a different outcome may have resulted.”

The Sheriff thanked Wellfleet for skillful but not unexpected CPR implementation by the crew and also thanked Fire Chief Rich Pauley for his department’s help in producing the video.

Other postings at the same U-Tube site include one of inmates telling viewers how they burglarize homes and another of inmates relating life in the throes of heroin addiction.

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