LAWRENCE — When Lawrence police Chief John Romero stopped by Chester Street last night, a crowd of grateful neighbors gave him a farewell send-off that few public officials ever get.
He got rained on by colored confetti. A disc jockey announced his arrival to a chorus of deafening cheers. Members of the Sacred Heart Neighborhood Association presented him with a large white pan cake donated by Tripoli Bakery while a large banner waved from the front of a house proclaiming, “Thank you Chief Romero for all you have done for our neighborhood association.”
But that was just one of 10 stops the chief made as part of a 12-mile, two and a half hour tour throughout the city. Neighborhood groups made National Night Out — the chief’s 15th and last in Lawrence – one to remember for Romero, who retires on Sept. 3.
“I am so overwhelmed,” the chief told residents as he cut the cake.
“I should be thanking you for letting me be your police chief for 15 years,” Romero said.
The chief said the greeting was similar to what he received at other stops along the way.
“There must have been hundreds of hugs and handshakes. It was very emotional for me,” said Romero, 63, who has been chief for nearly 15 years.
“People of all ages and different generations came up to me — little kids, teenagers, their parents and grandparents. It really gave meaning to what we did here. The people of the city have really touched my life. So, now, I can see we touched each others’ lives. This was a special night that gave me a chance to say ‘good-bye,’” the chief said.
Lifelong Lawrence resident Brenda Rozzi, 63, president of the Sacred Heart Neighborhood Association, called Romero the “most approachable” police chief she’s ever known.
“When he comes to neighborhood association meetings, he always let’s us know what’s going on,” Rozzi said.
“We’re really going to miss him. I hope the next chief will continue to work with the neighborhood groups as much as Chief Romero has,” she said.
Susan Rios, 45, treasurer of the neighborhood group and a third generation Lawrencian, said she will long remember Romero for having the knack for putting residents at ease by his frank, pleasant and easy-going manner with common people.
“He makes you not feel afraid of the police,” Rios said.
“If you need help, you are not afraid to ask for it. He’s been great at our neighborhood associations. People can ask him for anything. He’s been wonderful,” she said.
Tanya Ray, 36, moved here from Lowell shortly before the chief’s arrival.
The Sacred Hearts Neighborhood Association secretary said she was impressed with his “open-mindedness” and his patience in listening to residents as they talk of their fears and concerns about crime.
“He makes people feel like their concerns aren’t overlooked, whether it’s a big or small concern,” Ray said.
“The chief has done so much in dealing with people’s issues and concerns. It’s going to be tough to replace him,” she said.
It was a special night for the resident of the Colonial Heights Neighborhood Association, who used their block party to help celebrate the group’s 60th year of existence in the city — the longest of any city neighborhood group, according to the association’s president Susan Laplante.
“Tonight was National Night Out — a special night for a show of force to tell criminals to ‘stay away’ because we don’t put up with any criminal activity,” Laplante said.
“The chief has been a great asset to the city and a great asset to this neighborhood. We’re going to miss him dearly. He’s the most responsible individual we could have as chief,” she said.
Laplante gave the chief a computer flash drive and key chain, a Red Sox can cooler (He’s a lifelong Yankees fan) and a Colonial Heights can cooler commemorating the group’s 60th year. A crowd of admirers mobbed the chief after the presentation.
“Landing in Lawrence was the best thing that ever happened to me in my career,” Romero said, as he stood in the street receiving farewell wishes.
“I wish I were younger so I could stay longer. I came to Lawrence 15 years ago not knowing one person in Massachusetts. Now, 15 years later, I have thousands of friends. Working together, we made a difference and for me, I will take that forever,” he said.