White turns in his badge after 30 years on the job

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CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — Two words can sum up the policing philosophy Kevin White developed during his 30 years as a police officer for the town of Chesterfield — equity and communication.

"You treat everyone the same," said White. "I don't care if they are driving a 30-year-old car or driving a brand-new Cadillac Escalade. You treat them all the same until they treat you differently. Respect goes both ways."

At 4 p.m. Thursday, May 31, White took off his uniform for the last time and turned in his badge.

"Lt. White has been a staple here for 30 years," said Chesterfield Police Chief Duane Chickering. "Kevin has been one of those people who has been there for everybody. He knows everybody and everybody knows him and that opens up a sense of trust and a lot of doors."

"Kevin has served the town for 30 years," said Chesterfield Select Board Chairman Jon McKeon. "In that time there have been many different challenges the town has endured, and all of the time Kevin has been there. He has provided guidance to many new officers and not just police officers, but elected officials also."

"I learned a lot from him," said Sgt. William DiLegge, N.H. State Police, Troop C. "It's been an honor to work alongside someone like him. He's a great cop but even better, he's a great person and a great father."

White told the Reformer that over his years as a police officer, the most important bit of advice he has offered to fellow officers of the law, neighbors, his children and town officials is to listen to people.

"Communication is a huge part of this job," he said. "You can have some pretty rough hombres that you deal with but if you show them a little respect and you communicate with them, it can go a long way. Doesn't matter if it's a marriage. Doesn't matter if it's policing. Doesn't matter if it's dealing with the community. Communication is big in anything. Act like a normal person and don't be overbearing."

While White, 53, is retiring from police work, he's not going away anytime soon. He is, in fact, returning to a job he took straight out of high school, following in his father Robert's footsteps as a plumber and a furnace repair technician for Swanzey Oil.

"When I got out of Keene High School in 1983 I went to work for Pinney Plumbing and Heating and learned a trade from my father," he said.

But during his time as a plumber, he got hooked on policing after going on a ride-along with the Chesterfield Police Department, which was under the leadership of Chief Eric Sargent at the time.

In 1989 he graduated from the New Hampshire State Police Academy.

"It was a rude awakening for me at the academy," said White. "We started with 49 recruits and graduated only 29. It was very paramilitary so it was a great accomplishment for me. What they did for me, anybody could say anything to you and it wouldn't bother you. You were mentally hardened, a professional."

White said over his 30-year career he has seen many changes. "When I started it was basically about writing a few speeding tickets and answering dog complaints," he said. Technology, he said, has made the job more efficient but also has made it, well, more technical. Officers need to have a better understanding of human nature, too, than when he started, said White.

"You've got to be able to read people, to tell whether they are sincere or not," said White. "You stop somebody who has been working all day and they look like there is not light at the end of the tunnel for them. You may just tip them over by writing that $62 un-inspected fee and the next thing you know you are responding to a domestic that same night."

Resolving problems

White said being a police officer is not about writing tickets and it's not about arresting people. "The last thing a police officer wants to do is arrest people. We want to resolve problems, but obviously, if a crime's been committed, law's been broken, an arrest is made."

White said he was comfortable with his role of being a problem solver, and he said helping people resolve their issues or finding them the right resources was the most rewarding part of his job. "All the calls we get we are supposed to be the ones who can resolve everything. From the violent crimes to the mental health issues people have. Everything we do we have to try to find a resolution and keep the peace within the community."

But he quickly added that being the town's D.A.R.E. officer was equally rewarding.

"When you walk into the school and the kids treat you like a rock star ..." he said. But it wasn't as easy as just walking into a school wearing a uniform, he said. "It's funny how kids can read you. If you don't keep their attention, show them your heart is in it, you are going to lose them."

That lesson served him well over the years, said White. "It's helped me be a better police officer."

"I see so many of our young people, students and young adults approach the police department with respect and ease," said McKeon. "One on the biggest reasons for this is Kevin; he is always looking to engage with the younger population and he is respectful to them and listens. For this, we are a better community."

Like many other police officers, White said the toughest part of his job was dealing with cases that involved child abuse and child sexual assault. But despite the horribleness of those cases, he said, he has been able to compartmentalize his reactions and do his job.

"One thing I was good at was I didn't really absorb that," he said. "But it's still back there in my brain and once in a while it gets triggered by something."

For him, the hardest part of those cases was not bringing them home. "You go home and your wife wants to know how your day went. She can read you if you had a bad day and wants you to talk about it, but you just can't."

One of the most memorable cases he worked on was a rash of burglaries across three states in 2009, 13 of which happened in Chesterfield.

"We were able to lock down who was committing them and get a lot of the property back," said White. "It was a lot of work and a tremendous amount of paperwork."

Patrolling the streets of Chesterfield is also problematic because one of the most-traveled roads in New Hampshire — Route 9 — passes across the length of the town.

"I remember every fatal accident I have responded to, every person who has died."

Time to retire

Though he has been fired upon twice in his career, White said he never had to fire his own service weapon on a suspect. But, he said, recently he began to wonder if his time was running out, or if he had pushed his luck too far.

"In February I had a close call with a traffic stop involving a wanted person," said White. The call started off with a report of a car off the road, and when he first responded, White didn't know the driver was a wanted man in two states. "He didn't want to give me any information. In the car was a woman, two young kids and dogs. He didn't want to give me his license."

To make matters worse, White was in a location where he wasn't getting radio reception and was using his cell phone to check on the vehicle and the driver.

"He was standing at the back of my cruiser but he went to his truck, opened the door and leaned in. His left shoulder dropped. He then looked over his right shoulder and saw that I had drawn my weapon on him."

The driver stepped back empty handed, but during a search of the vehicle, White found a loaded 9mm handgun under the driver's seat.

And then, a couple of days later, while attempting to restrain a suspect, he hurt his shoulder. "It got me to really thinking. It's really important to know when it's time to retire."

Despite his decision, White said it's hard walking away from his job of 30 years.

"I love this department. This is a great group of people."

White said he's also enjoyed working with officers and troopers around the region.

"We have a great working relationship with the surrounding departments and I have the utmost respect for the State Police."

White said he could not have been a successful and respected member of the Chesterfield community without the help of his wife, Mary, maiden name Nesbit, whom he married the same year he joined the police department. Together they have three daughters, Cailey, 23, Taylor, 21, and Maddison, 18.

"I give my wife a lot of credit. She's an amazing woman. I am blessed to have three great children and a great wife."

"I am happy that he's happy," said White's daughter, Cailey. "He's worked really hard for a long time. I feel like he has a big weight lifted off of him."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.

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