PEPPERELL — After more than 30 years serving the town, Police Chief David Scott has announced that he will retire on July 1.
In choosing July 1 as his last shift, Scott will retire on the day of Pepperell’s annual Independence Day celebration, a much beloved tradition in town.
Scott has served Pepperell since August of 1989, when he joined the Pepperell Auxiliary Police Department. After graduating from college in 1993, Scott became a Pepperell Reserve Police Officer and shortly thereafter was hired as a full-time officer by Police Chief Alan Davis.
He worked through the ranks from sergeant in 1999 and lieutenant in 2005 before being named chief in 2010. He also served as the department’s D.A.R.E. officer.
“D.A.R.E. was possibly the most difficult day-to-day work assignment I ever took on,” Scott admitted. “I quickly gained a new respect for teachers and everyone else involved in public education! We built a great relationship between the police and the schools. I knew almost every kid in town and they knew me, and that was a great feeling as I rose up the ranks and eventually became chief. Those relationships have been extremely important over the years.”
As a patrol officer and supervisor, “we had a lot of fun back then – helping people and arresting bad guys,” Scott recalled “The officers I supervised were great. Having good patrol officers sure can make a sergeant look good.”
However, it was about that time that Scott started to realize that most of the “bad guys” that they were arresting were suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues, or both.
While returning to college for his master’s degree, Scott learned of a program in Memphis, Tennessee where mental health clinicians were being paired with police officers responding to calls to get individuals help, instead of arresting them.
“It became a goal of mine that seemed impossible due to the small size and seemingly constant financial struggles of our town,” he said.
After becoming chief, Scott saw more and more police departments partnering with clinicians as the opioid crisis raged throughout the country. The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health began offering grant money for these police/clinician partnerships. In 2016, Chief Scott received a grant to share a clinician amongst ten area small towns. The program has grown, and earlier this year, Scott’s goal was achieved as a mental health clinician began riding in Pepperell’s cruisers.
“It’s been a lot of work. Getting all 10 towns on the same page continues to be time-consuming, but it’s been worth it,” he said. “The program has helped a lot of people over the years and I would expect the numbers to increase with the addition of the clinician being at calls.”
Scott has had a regional impact with one of his other passions, school safety. He serves as the Control Chief of the Northeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council’s School Threat Assessment and Response System, also known as NEMLEC STARS team, which serves over 60 cities and towns in Middlesex and Essex counties. He’s been on the team since 2015 and leading it since 2018, and NEMLEC STARS has become one of the go-to national models for preventing, planning for and responding to threats and violence in schools.
“What an amazing, intelligent, dedicated group of people,” Scott said of the STARS program and its members drawn from police, fire, EMS and public school leaders regionwide. “I’ve learned so much from them, and they amaze me every day.”
Scott recently received multiple awards, including the Massachusetts Partnerships for Youth’s Patrick Schettini award for his work in school safety and the National Alliance for Mental Illness (Massachusetts Chapter) Award for Excellence in Crisis Response for his work helping those who suffer from mental health and/or substance use disorders.
He also received the Hector Pelletier award for supporting the Jimmy Fund, which unfortunately came after his March 2021 stage four colon cancer diagnosis.
“Pepperell has always supported public safety in general, but their support for me personally since my diagnosis has been overwhelming,” Scott said, “and I thank everyone for that.”
Ever humble, Chief Scott attributes a large part of his success to others.
“We have a great group of people here at [Pepperell Police Department.] Some police chiefs’ stress levels go through the roof with internal issues alone. Although I’ve had a few over the years, overall I’ve been lucky. Less time spent on internal issues has allowed me to spend more time focused on the community.”
Reflecting on his career, Scott added these parting words: “We all look back on our initial employment interviews where everyone says ‘we just want to help people’ in policing. For me, that was true throughout my career, and I think I accomplished that.”