In his last appearance before the City Council prior to his retirement, Lawrence Police Chief John Romero was humble as he accepted the appreciation of the city’s leaders.
Romero came to Lawrence as police chief nearly 15 years ago following two decades in the New York City Police Department. Tuesday, his tenure in Lawrence comes to an end.
“While I love New York City, nothing matches my 15 years in Lawrence,” Romero told the councilors. “I hope I left the city and the department better than I found it.”
There’s no question that he did. Romero’s time leading the Police Department is proof that competent, professional management is possible in Lawrence, a city that too many have written off as hopeless.
During Romero’s time in New York, he rose from transit police trainee to precinct commander in one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. Romero took the lessons he learned there — the importance of reaching out to the community, the positive effect of controlling petty “quality of life” crime — and brought them to Lawrence.
The first thing Romero did was get the department itself under control. At the time, the police department was rife with factionalism and its ranks clogged with those taking advantage of a lenient disability and sick leave system. Romero established new standards of performance and conduct for his officers and began to weed out those unwilling or unable to return to work, which allowed him to put more officers on the streets.
It was no easy task but it left him with a core of professional and competent police officers ready to spend more time fighting crime than fighting among themselves.
Romero used computerized crime statistics to give the department leads on when and where certain crimes were likely to occur — and crime rates began to fall. In New York, Romero had worked with the anti-graffiti unit of the Transit Police, which fought the plague of paint scrawls on the city’s subway cars. Romero learned that these supposedly “victimless” quality-of-life crimes had consequences, lowering the morale of neighborhoods and producing the sense that the bad guys were in control.
In Lawrence, he applied those lessons to his crusade against automobile insurance fraud. Lawrence had become known as the auto fraud capital of the nation, a place where staged accidents produced a steady stream of income for unscrupulous chiropractors and lawyers, all funded by the sky-high insurance premiums paid by the city’s hapless, law-abiding residents.
When a Lawrence grandmother died in a staged accident, Romero launched his anti-fraud task force, which, with the help of state prosecutors and insurance investigators, broke the auto fraud industry in Lawrence and became a model for other communities. More than 500 arrests have resulted and the effort has saved Lawrence drivers millions in insurance premiums.
Romero, 63, plans to spend more time on the West Coast, where two daughters live. He leaves the city a far better place than he found it.
“Whatever we achieved here was done by the men and the women of this department, and I was happy to be a part of it,” he told reporter Mark E. Vogler.
We thank Chief Romero for a job well done and wish him the best in his retirement.