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Meet new Manchester police chief: Ride-along turned Carlo Capano toward police work

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 22. 2018 11:32PM
Manchester's new Police Chief Carlo Capano helps a mother and daughter with directions in downtown Manchester on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Manchester’s new Police Chief Carlo Capano speaks during an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER -- As a sophomore political science major at Salem State College, Carlo Capano of Groveland, Mass., thought the last career path he would take would be to become a cop.

“I never intended on being a police officer. A lot of cops have that dream to follow in dad’s footsteps and join the force. That wasn’t me. I wanted to be a lawyer,” Capano recalled during an interview Thursday.

Enter Michael Courtemanche, a classmate and friend who brought him an intriguing proposition.

“We went to the same high school together and he was a part-time police officer in West Newbury, Mass. He said, ‘I am working this weekend, you want to do a ride-along?’ I figured, ‘Sure it could be fun,’” Capano said.

“Something about it clicked — interacting with the public, having that ability to have a positive difference on the lives of people, you could see it on the street that all of that was possible.”

Within a week, Capano had changed his major from political science to criminal justice. Some months later he started working toward becoming a part-time officer in West Newbury. He worked there with Courtemanche for two and a half years.

“Then he happened to tell me Manchester, New Hampshire, was hiring. I had to look it up and do some research. We both applied, I ended up getting brought on in Manchester in March 1996, and here I am today,” Capano said.

And a week from Sunday, he’ll be Chief Capano, becoming Manchester’s top cop at age 46.

The promotion will cap a 22-year steady cruise up the ranks that started as a bicycle officer working the midnight shift to the last three years as assistant chief and right-hand man to departing Chief Nick Willard, soon to become U.S. marshal for New Hampshire.

“I am excited to take over,” Capano said. “Chief Willard has done fantastic things for the city, just a tremendous mentor. He is going to be missed here.”

Capano and Willard were on separate but parallel tracks that got each of them noticed by department brass. They first bonded when they were selected together to attend a lie-detector school in San Diego. Both would become decorated veteran detectives who took administrative jobs when they opened up.

“We have been molding and shaping the department together,” Capano said.

Capano doesn’t think the public will notice a big change in terms of policy with him leading this department.

But they aren’t the same person.

“Personality-wise, Nick and I have different personalities; he describes me as a nuts-and-bolts guy. We are different,” Capano said.

“Nick is more out there with the social aspect and in social media. I have always been behind the curtains running things and more comfortable doing that.”

Capano also concedes he can be more stern than his boss.

“We will have our different touches on how we run the department. Some see me as more strict than Chief Williard, and I think that’s true,” Capano said.

Capano said he’s determined to stay as close as he can with the cops on the beat.

“As the assistant chief, I tried to get out of the building one or two hours a day, go to Elm Street or the parks or go to a hot spot,” Capano said.

“I always want to know what is going on out there. If I don’t know what (the officers) are facing, how can I give them something to support them? That is what keeps me grounded; my passion for police work will keep me grounded.”

Capano intends to bring a renewed focus to community policing, especially in the downtown where he thinks extra beat patrols should be in place year-round, not just in the summer, when the department’s nine school resource officers head back out on street patrol.

“Elm Street is the economic engine for the city and I think it’s important to have that friendly face down there as well. I want to get back to what it might have been like 20 years ago when the officers knew the kids; that respect went both ways.”

The fight to get control of the opioid epidemic is all about supply and demand, and programs like Safe Station are starting to have an effect, he said.

“Our drug unit, I could double or triple that — and it is not necessarily good news, it’s not what you want to hear. We need to work with the health department (and) the mayor’s office to do all we can to take the addiction pool and to shrink it,” Capano said.

“The hard part and the reality of it is there is so much money being made with these opioids. As long as people are buying it, you will have those people coming in.”

Capano said it’s important for his 237 officers to know their first role is to protect and serve and not to be social workers.

“Is it our job per se to direct addicts to get treatment? No, but should we as a police force help those doing that job? Absolutely — and that is what we are determined to do.

“We have to stay in our lane, our primary job is safety and security in the city of Manchester but if we can do anything to help and assist those on the front lines of delivering care, we absolutely should.”

Manchester’s new Police Chief Carlo Capano has a laugh with officer Warren Olson in downtown Manchester on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Changing the image

Every new chief has a wish list and topping Capano’s would be to change the image of police, even in Manchester.

“I would love to change the negative narrative just about police in general. There are so many great things being done for the community, it wears on you, the negative narrative that is out there,” Capano said.

Solving this is all about being more proactive, the incoming chief continued.

“I think we can do a better job letting people know what we are doing,” Capano said. “Sometimes, the community may not know what the process is internally and we can do a better job of educating everybody.”

In his genes

Ironically, the guy who never dreamed he’d be a cop later found that it was in his genes.

“Growing up my father’s parents were from Italy and came over to the United States. My grandfather worked in the GE plants in Lynn (Mass.). He was a police officer in Italy, but growing up I never knew it. After I became an officer, my dad pulled out a photograph of my grandfather in his police uniform,” Capano said.

And he proudly says the lineage will continue: The older of his two sons, Cole, just graduated from Memorial High School, turns 19 next month and intends to study criminal justice in college to one day become a police officer.

“Look at the family and how much it impacts, the nights, weekends, holidays, the dangers of the job — it isn’t getting any easier,” he said. “Social media has created another world for our profession and many others. It is going to be much different when he gets into his career.”

Capano’s younger son, Caden, is 13. “It’s been an interesting ride,” Capano said, “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

“I look back sometimes and think what I would have done if I hadn’t gotten into this. Honestly, now I can’t imagine doing anything but this.”

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