Belmont Police Chief To Parents: Don’t Drive Those Kids To School!

Photo: Congestion near the Wellington on Common

Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac has something to say to parents of school-age children: Tell your kids to take a walk! As in take a walk to school each day.

With vehicle trips returning to pre-pandemic levels and changing traffic patterns and street repairs leading to congested roadways during weekday mornings and afternoons, MacIsaac is asking parents to consider NOT driving the kids to school.

“Every week during the school year, we receive complaints that pertain to motor vehicle traffic around our schools” with “[t]he vast majority of violators we identify are parents,” said MacIsaac.

The troubles start with the realization that the parking lots of each school and the adjacent roads “are not conducive to the amount of traffic that occurs around start time and the end of the school day,” Belmont’s chief said in a press release.

Add to that road construction and new traffic patterns at the new Belmont Middle and High School, Chenery Middle School and the Wellington and Burbank elementary schools and the sum total equals a significant amount of traffic challenges that police are facing each day.

So MacIsaac is putting the question to parents: consider alternatives to the usual drive to and from school such as have children take the bus, ride a bike or walk with their child to school.

Rather than taking them to the schoolhouse door, parents can also park a block or two away so a student’s walk will be a short one. And if driving to school is the only option, parents should exercise patience and be considerate to walkers and other motorists while driving Belmont roads, said MacIsaac.

Talk On How Supreme Court Ruling Effects Gun Ownership in Belmont Friday At The Beech Street Center

Photo: The talk will take place at the Beech Street Center, Friday, Aug. 12 from 1:15 p.m. – 2:15 pm.

The decision in June by the US Supreme Court to loosen handgun restrictions in New York City will have an effect on Belmont residents seeking to purchase a weapon that they wished to carry on them in public.

Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac will host a conversation and discussion about the court’s gun reform ruling, gun reform laws in general and how it impacts Massachusetts at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St., Friday, Aug. 12 from 1:15 p.m. – 2:15 pm. Cost is free.

“I was approached by the senior center about … the court decision and what effect it would have in Massachusetts,” MacIsaac told the Select Board at its Monday, Aug. 8 meeting.

The June 23 decision struck down a New York law requiring people to show a specific need to carry a firearm in public. Gun safety advocates, however, emphasize that the court’s ruling was limited in scope and still allows states to regulate types of firearms, where people can carry firearms and the permitting process, including requirements for background checks and training. 

MacIsaac said the commonwealth had “pretty good gun laws” prior to the ruling: an applicant would need to present three letters of recommendation and then questioned on their need to carry a weapon in public. In Belmont, the police chief who was the issuing authority could then either reject the application or grant either a Class A license – which allowed for a person to carry a concealed at any time – or a Class B which allowed them to carry to and from a shooting range.

The Supreme Court’s ruling did away with the classification systems and the need for letters of recommendation, said MacIsaac. “It’s still up to the police chief in the community if there’s a reason that they find someone’s not suitable and we still have the statutory exemptions that prevent people from obtaining a firearm.”

After Extraordinary Year, Belmont Awards Police Chief With Extension, Pay Raise

Photo: James MacIsaac, Belmont Police Chief

A pandemic, nationwide civil rights protests and the challenges brought on by the position itself. The past year put most police chief under the spotlight. And according to town officials, Chief James MacIsaac took on the challenge and shined.

At its Monday night meeting, Aug. 16, the Belmont Select Board unanimously approved a merit increase of one and a half percent for MacIsaac retroactive to July 1, 2021 and agreed to extend his contract by two years with a new expiration date of Dec. 31, 2024. The increase brings his “all-in” salary to $191,354.91, according to Belmont Human Resources Director Shawna Healey.

Belmont Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, who conducts the performance review of police chiefs, said unlike his previous review, “I had to look at it through a different lens given the abnormality of COVID and the challenges that that brought to the position.”

Shortly after MacIsaac started on January 2020, COVID hit, followed a couple months after, the country and police forces was dealing with the murder of George Floyd, all the while running a department from a temporary location while coordinating the move into the new Police Headquarters, noted Garvin.

“The challenges [MacIsaac] was facing in last year was challenges … former police chiefs 10 to 15 years to experience,” said Garvin. Despite working in that “whirlwind” as a first year police chief, “[MacIsaac] performed beyond expectation at an exemplary level, using the strengths that he has, given his personality and his years of experience with the force as the assistant chief.”

“He was able to … lead the community through all those challenges and my review [of his] last year’s performance was the highest it could be for an employee,” said Garvin, rating his performance a five.

“Thank you, Chief. I’m happy to extend you an additional two years,” said Select Board Chair Adam Dash. “Great work and I look forward to working with you further.”

Letter To The Editor: Chief MacIsaac Discuss George Floyd’s Death And Future Of Trust

Photo: Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac

On Thursday, May 28, I received an email from a Belmont resident who, in light of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer, felt it was necessary to ask me a few questions to proactively ensure the safety of Belmont’s minority citizens. I immediately answered the residents email. I have since heard from others with similar concerns, so I believe it is necessary for me to write this letter.

I watched the video of George Floyd’s death with dismay. As a police officer and former use-of-force instructor, I was sickened by the video. Speaking for the Officers at the Belmont Police Department, I can say that they, too, found the video disturbing. The death of George Floyd runs counter in every way to the values of democracy, justice, and fundamental fairness. Any officer who is not upset about the death of George Floyd, or seeks to justify the unjustifiable, should leave the profession of law enforcement.

Please know that our officers work very hard to build and maintain trust within our community. Our number one goal is to provide excellent, fair and impartial police services to the community of Belmont. Over the years, leadership at the BPD has infused an ethos into our Department requiring that all citizens and visitors to Belmont that we encounter receive fair, equal and compassionate treatment. Maintaining and cultivating this culture is our number one priority.

The most effective way we can build trust between the police and the community is for us to get to know one another.

Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac

Our officers are aware of the differences of explicit and implicit biases and have received annual training on how biases can affect their interactions with others. Belmont Police Officers are trained in de-escalation techniques that include de-escalating incidents involving people in crisis, people living with addiction, and people with autism.

The circumstances of the George Floyd death will and should cause police organizations across the country to take a hard look at their officers and their organizational cultures to prevent these kinds of tragedies from happening in the future. I can assure you that the Belmont Police Department fully embraces the six pillars of the principals found in President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

The Belmont Police will continue our partnerships and collaboration with existing and future groups that seek to bring social justice within our community. I have never been more proud of officers and our team at the BPD. At no time during my career, can I recall us having a group of professional and community minded officers like the ones that fill our ranks today. I will be attending each roll call in the coming week to discuss the incident in Minneapolis with our officers and to share the concerns that residents have expressed to me.

The most effective way we can build trust between the police and the community is for us to get to know one another. I, and the members of the Belmont Police Department, will always make ourselves available to anyone who has concerns or questions regarding operations, tactics and how we interact with the public.

As a police officer, it is heartbreaking to me when I learn that there are people in our community that fear the police. We will make every effort to alleviate that fear and build trust within the Community of Belmont.

James MacIsaac

Belmont Police Chief

Select Board Pegs McIsaac To Be Next Belmont Police Chief (VIDEO)

Photo: Belmont Assistant Police Chief James MacIsaac

Assistant Police Chief James MacIsaac could soon be leading his hometown police department as the Belmont Select Board unanimously selected the life long resident to succeed Richard McLaughlin as Belmont’s next police chief.

“I hope to continue to serve the Town of Belmont [in] the capacity of Police Chief,” MacIsaac told the board after an hour-long presentation during a public meeting at Town Hall on Monday, Dec. 9.

MacIsaac and Belmont Lt. Chris Donahue – who addressed the board and a handful of residents on Monday – were the finalists from an original group of five selected by the Police Chief Screening Committee chaired by former Selectman Mark Paolillo.

While saying that the town “seems to have an embarrassment of riches” with two outstanding candidates for the job, Select Board’s Adam Dash believed “while Chris Donahue sounded like a great cop, I think James MacIsaac sounds like a great leader.”

MacIsaac will take command of the 108 member (with 49 sworn officers) department – pending contract negotiations with the town – from McLaughlin who is retiring on Dec. 31.

Once a contract is squared away, MacIsaac will be Belmont’s 12th full-time chief since David Chenery, Jr. was named Superintendent of Highways and Police Chief in 1877, according to the late town historian, Richard Betts.

In their presentations, Donahue and MacIsaac agreed on the need for additional support on traffic – 42 percent of all calls to Belmont Police involve traffic related incidents – assisting the elderly and strong school/police relations. Each pointed to strategies to protect victims of domestic violence which make up 90 percent of the assault and battery calls to police.

Belmont Police Lt. Chris Donahue.

They also agreed that civil service, which provides preference to residents in entry-level officer positions, has hurt Belmont’s ability to attract an increased diverse pool of candidates.

In his presentation, MacIsaac said that “attempting to maintain the status quo within the department is not an option.” He noted that his philosophy is that all organizations are “always growing even if you’ve reached that top pinnacle.”

“So we are going to build on success that Chief McLaughlin has created,” said MacIsaac.

Among the first acts under MacIsaac’s watch will be filling the vacancies of assistant chief and captain, create strong lines of communication with an emphasis on collaborative partnership between Command staff and officers as well as be cognitive of the fiscal limitations placed on the police budget.

McIsaac will also commit to a six month evaluation of 21 specific areas of policing including staff levels, whether there is too many supervisory positions, reviewing the IT function including the possibility of adding a software specialist to the force and if the department should continue a K-9 unit.

“You need to be willing to try new things. As long as it doesn’t endanger somebody or endangers civilians or cost a lot of money, I’m willing to try just about anything … to improve the organization,” he said.

The Select Board were more supportive of MacIsaac’s approach and specifics to issues. While there were many similarities to the finalists approach to the job, “the principle difference is the fact that MacIsaac’s has been assistant chief for some time and I think he is more attune to the issues on the management side of things,” said Roy Epstein.

And Board Chair Tom Caputo said while the town would benefit with either candidate in the job, “I was engaged and excited to see the depth in which he seems to understands the issues … and the manner in which he was able to provide specific examples to almost take it to a strategic level.”

“While we have two very good candidates, the nod for me is to Jamie,” said Caputo.

BREAKING: Belmont Asst. Police Chief MacIsaac Named Wayland’s Top Cop

Photo: Belmont Police Assistant Chief James MacIsaac.

Belmont Police Assistant Chief James MacIsaac will be named Wayland’s top cop, replacing Police Chief Robert Irving who is retiring after 15 years leading the department.

The Wayland Board of Selectmen had scheduled an executive session to discuss negotiation strategy in hiring a new chief at its Monday, Aug. 21, meeting.

“I have been offered the position of Chief of Police in Wayland contingent upon me passing the pre-employment screening and background investigation,” MacIsaac told the Belmontonian in an exclusive interview.

“Becoming a police chief has always been a goal of mine. A few years back, I made a list of communities where I would be willing to work if the opportunity should arise. The Wayland job opened up, and I applied,” said MacIsaac.

MacIsaac praised Irving on leadership in Wayland, noting the department received in 2015 a state certification from the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission. 

“Achieving Certification is no easy task, and it’s a tribute the Wayland police personnel and their command staff. I also like that the public safety, police, and fire, operate out of a building that was constructed in 2003,” he said.

A lifelong resident – who has lived all but two years in Belmont – MacIsaac joined the Belmont Police in 1999 and was appointed Belmont’s assistant chief in July 2012.

“I have been fortunate to have Chief [Richard] McLaughlin as a mentor as I do not think I have met a person with as much dedication, integrity, and empathy as Chief McLaughlin,” said MacIsaac.

While achieving a chief’s appointment is a milestone for those in law enforcement, MacIsaac said it is bittersweet leaving a position in his hometown’s police department.

“I can easily say that this has been one of, if not the most, difficult decision I have ever made. I truly enjoy working and living in Belmont. My experiences in Belmont have helped to make me a better person and better police officer. I have benefited immensely from growing up, living and working in Belmont and I will always be grateful to the residents, fellow police officers and town employees who have helped me along the way,” he said.  

MacIsaac – known by his friends as ‘Jamie’ – grew up on Grant Avenue with his parents and five brothers and sisters, graduating from Belmont High School in 1985. He and his wife, Joanne, have raised their three children in Belmont. 

He also founded in 2015 the Belmont Junior Marauders, successfully reviving the football program for 7th and 8th graders at the Chenery Middle School. MacIsaac was also an assistant football coach at Belmont High School for several years.

MacIsaac earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Massachusetts Boston in 1990, and his master’s from Western New England College in 2000. MacIsaac also graduated from the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy, in Quantico, Va. in 2009.

MacIsaac is heading to a town of half the population of Belmont, about 13,400, that according to the website Neighborhood Scout (using FBI statistics) was the safest community in the state in 2015 with a mere seven total crimes including one violent assault. In comparison, Belmont had 162 total crimes in 2015. Recently, the most newsworthy event involving the police was a bear wandering through the town back in June.