Bedford police Lt. Jim Graham looks at recent Massachusetts police reform legislation and wonders, “What took you so long?”
“We’ve been doing this in Bedford for 20 years,” he declared in an interview this week. “Welcome to our world.”
Graham, 62, who retires from the force on Friday after more than 30 years, says his philosophy, and that of the department, is simple: “Help people make things better.” He added that the department and the citizens it serves engage in mutual respect. “I’ve really enjoyed my career here.”
Chief Robert Bongiorno said Graham will be difficult to replace. “He has been instrumental in all we have been able to accomplish here. He has been a friend, a leader, and a true professional,” the chief said.
Graham has been “primarily responsible for policies and procedures that enabled us to attain our accreditation” with the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission, and the certification that preceded accreditation, Bongiorno continued.
“We would not have attained accreditation without him. He is known as an expert in policies and procedures throughout the state. When departments are seeking accreditation, they always seek out the guidance and expertise of Lt. Graham.”
The lieutenant offered an example of how state law is catching up with Bedford’s policy in the use of force. Reform legislation signed by the governor late last year identifies the general circumstances under which police officers can use physical force. In Bedford, Graham said, “We review the use of force policy annually. And almost every time, officers use de-escalation and, if needed, a level of force that’s always less than allowed.”
Graham grew up in Dracut and graduated from Austin Preparatory School in Reading. He began his collegiate studies at Lowell Technological Institute and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Lowell, with a double major in math and physics. Later he earned a degree in criminal justice from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.
And he laughed when he noted that all three are the same school at different times.
Graham went to work as a product marketing manager for Wang Laboratories. He said his father-in-law, a police officer, suggested he take the civil service test “just to be safe.” He scored at the top. Sometime later, as Wang Labs struggled, Graham said he and his wife agonized about what to do. “But the decision was made for us,” and he was laid off in 1990.
That year, he joined the Bedford Police Department, the first non-resident on the civil service list.
As a junior patrolman, Graham started on the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. But he wanted to get involved in community policing, so he made it a point to be assigned to events like Bedford Day and pole-capping, opportunities to personally interact with residents of all ages. “That’s how I got to know people,” he said. “Bedford Day is my favorite day.”
Former Chief James Hicks and his successor, Chief Robert Bongiorno “encouraged us to do things for the community,” he added.
A lieutenant for the past 16 years, Graham said his philosophy always has been to try to make an impact in a positive way. He said he cherishes “the times a kid would tell me, ‘I took your advice and everything worked out great.’”
Even traffic stops are occasions for constructive interchange and not a money-making practice for the town.
Graham also served as the department’s liaison to residents of multi-family housing complexes like Huckins Farm and Bedford Village., all aimed at “community-building. Bedford has a great sense of community.”
For the past 25 years, he also has been the department’s crime prevention officer.
“He has had a very distinguished career at the Bedford Police Department,” Bongiorno stated. “He led the division of the department, assisted me in day-to-day operations… he has had his hand in everything.”
Graham enumerated “a couple of things about policing that I love.” One is to make a difference in times of crisis. He remembers answering an emergency call from a mother and grandmother concerning an infant who wasn’t breathing. He said he took the child, handed him to the medical technicians who also arrived, and then turned his attention to calming the hysterical grandmother. The child was fine.
And for many years afterward, “Every time that mother and child would see me in town, she would point and say, ‘That’s the officer who saved your life.’”
Also, for several years he participated in a health fair and alcohol awareness event at Middlesex Community College and remembers the earnest questions from young people that he addressed.
Graham has two grown children; a third was the victim of a drug overdose more than 15 years ago. “You learn to deal with it,” he said, adding that when called to such cases, “I do know what they are going through.”
Now that he is available during the business day, Graham hopes to be spending more time in the classroom – the front of the classroom. He is certified as an instructor with the Municipal Police Training Committee and hopes to have opportunities to teach full time. “He is so well respected statewide, so well known for teaching with the council,” the chief commented.
Graham instructs in the areas of law and ethics, including constitutional law, conflict resolution, motor vehicle law, and crisis intervention. “I’ve used all of that in everything we do here,” he said. He added, “I also teach people how to be teachers.”
Meanwhile, this summer for about six weeks, Graham and his wife will be hosting a summer camp at home for their two grandchildren, ages 9 and 13. Afterward, there will be some day trips, but “we have no big plans for seeing the world,” he laughed.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763