Chief Terrence Cunningham’s week has been a whirlwind since he announced plans to leave the Wellesley Police Department after more than 30 years on the force in the town in which he grew up. We snuck in a few questions to the incoming Deputy Executive Director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, by email, which he was kind enough to answer:
Did you think you’d be a lifer on WPD?
I started with the department back in 1981 in the volunteer position as a Wellesley Special Police Officer; then I was hired full time in April of 1983. I knew I would be a career police officer, I just didn’t know it would be in Wellesley. The only time I considered transferring to a different agency was back in the early 1990’s — I took the exam for LAPD and went through that process because a number of my classmates from Northeastern were there. However, once I was offered a position in Wellesley I turned it down: I wanted to stay here where my roots are. Looking back on it, it was perhaps one of the best professional decisions I’ve ever made. It has been an honor to serve the town alongside so many dedicated, caring and thoughtful officers.
Are you actually moving to Virginia (where the IACP is headquartered)?
My wife Megan and I are actually moving to Virginia, but I do plan on coming back to the area after serving with the IACP for some period of time.
I see that your big focus will be community-police relations at the IACP. What have you learned from working in town over the years on that front that you’ll be bringing to the national/international front?
I have learned so much working here in Wellesley, but also from my time as the president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association and the time I served as the chair of the Mass chiefs legislative committee where I handled all the legislative matters for almost eight years.
Everyone should feel that they are treated fairly, justly and impartially. It doesn’t matter what that person’s status or station in life is. Every police agency should strive to reflect the community they serve. They should be committed to full transparency and there is an obligation for the chief executive of any agency to hold their officers accountable for their actions.
I know you’ve had some pretty amazing travel and other opportunities with the IACP. Is that part of the attraction of the new job as well?
One piece of the portfolio for the new position does include traveling. I’m responsible for the IACP’s relationship with Europol, Interpol, Aseanapol, Afripol and Ameripol [Editor’s note: No South Pole or North Pole?]. Additionally, I will be responsible for overseeing our international training that we do around the globe, particularly training on behalf of the US State Department in countries like Morocco, Afghanistan and Iraq. So this intersection of training police agencies in developing countries as well as travel abroad is attractive to me. It seems a bit overwhelming, but I would prefer say it will be challenging.
Can you cite a highlight or two from your years on the force, aside from being written about on the Swellesley Report?
Wow, that is really difficult. I guess the true highlight of my career has been to watch the transformation of the officers as the department became totally committed to service to the community. They still have their enforcement role that they have to fulfill,. However, the town of Wellesley has this incredible jewel in the police department where the officers beam with pride, love doing their jobs and have all embraced the guardianship mentality. They realize that 99% of the time they are there to assist and help people, particularly when those individuals are having the worst day of their lives. I am so proud of the men and women of the police department. Words alone cannot describe how I’m feeling.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the entire Wellesley Community for all the support they have given me during my tenure here at the police department. It has been an honor to serve as your chief of police.
MORE: Read Chief Cunningham’s farewell letter to the community
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