Police Recall One of their Own With Pride

Former Swampscott Police Chief John Toomey was intelligent, empathetic and had a sense of humor.


John Toomey's days were full.

The former Swampscott police chief died Friday at 68 years old. Sixty-eight busy and engaged years.

Thirty of them were on the Swampscott police force.

He rose from patrolman in 1971 to lieutenant in 1979 to captain in 1982 to chief in 1988.

He was at home in formal and less formal settings, said those on the Swampscott force who served with and under him.  

John Toomey was at home in a cruiser and on a police motorcycle. In street work and in office work. As union president or the opposite side of the table in union negotiations. And in court as prosecutor. 

John Toomey raised a family. He earned undergrad, graduate and law degrees. And he stayed connected to those around him.

Retired Swampscott police officer Dave Matherson, who worked his entire career alongside or under John Toomey, said he was accepted and respected and funny. 

Matherson recalled a time he awoke to find his own face on the front page of the Lynn Item newspaper.

Matherson and Lynn police had been chasing a guy with guns who was said to have been on his way to Marblehead to kill someone. 

The police apprehended the guy before anything happened.

As Matherson was placing the suspect in the back of a police car, holding the suspect's head down, SNAP — a photographer captured the moment for the next edition.

Soon thereafter, John Toomey cropped the heads off the suspect and Matherson in a copy the news photo and did the old switcheroo — pasting the suspect's head on the officer's shoulders and vice versa.

Copies of his artwork hung prominently on the walls of places frequented by Matherson including Purcells restaurant in Salem.

John Toomey pursued a few suspects himself over the years. 

Even after he rose through the ranks.

Current Swampscott Chief Ron Madigan recalled a time from the early 1990s when he was a patrolman working with fellow patrolman Tim Cassidy.

A stolen car crashed at Phillips Beach.

The occupants baled, the patrolman in pursuit.

Captain Matherson joined the chase, showing up in an unmarked car.

He was a captain at the time but got involved.

"He was out there working with us," Chief Madigan said.

He also empathized with people, Chief Madigan said.

Swampscott police Capt. John Alex said that from John Toomey's time as the president of the union, to the time he led the department as the chief, he consistently made the Swampscott Police Department a better place to work.

"Some things in our contract we have today are the result of John Toomey's leadership," he said. "For those who did not have the pleasure to work with him, even when he was chief, he treated everyone with respect and allowed you to do your job and supported you while you did it.

"He even had a good relationship with the union and to my recollection there were no grievances filed by the union while he was chief. He was truly a good man."

Detective and today's Swampscott Police Union President Ted Delano said Chief Toomey had a soft spot for kids and for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

He was instrumental in starting two department programs that serve kids, the school resource officer, and that serve victims of abuse, the department's family services officer.

Chief Toomey was even-handed and could calm tense situations and find compromise.

And he furthered those attributes by teaching them to others.

"He was a fantastic teacher," Delano said.

He counseled patience and seeing both sides of a story rather than rushing to judgment.

He also believed in helping young people learn from mistakes and in telling police officers that they needn't take the harshest path.

"'Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you to have to do something,' is something he would say," Delano recalled.

The chief applied this philosophy to his police officers, as well, said Matherson.

"If you got got called to his office, you knew you did something wrong," Matherson said.

John Toomey's funeral will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 at 10 AM at the SOLIMINE, LANDERGAN AND RICHARDSON FUNERAL HOME, 67 Ocean Street (Rte 1A), Lynn followed by a funeral mass in St. John the Evangelist Church, Swampscott at 11 AM. Relatives and friends are respectfully invited. Cremation in Harmony Grove Crematory.

Visiting hours are on Tuesday from 4 PM to 8 PM. 


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