Chief Correia focuses on safety, community outreach

Jul 27, 2021

Walter Correia joined the Wareham Police Department in the summer of 1994 — totally new to the profession.

This spring — more than 25 years later — Correia was named Chief of Police for the department to which he’s dedicated his career.

“In a lot of ways, [the police department] hasn’t really changed,” Correia said. 

In contrast, the town’s year-round population has increased significantly, as has the number of businesses in the area. 

In addition to routine calls for offenses like breaking and entering, Correia said some types of calls have increased since he joined the force.

“Of course, today we have more drug-related calls,” Correia said. He noted that when he joined the department in the mid-90s, officers didn’t see much heroin — “not like we see today.” 

“Fentanyl, today, is the big one, for a host of different reasons,” Correia said.

Mental health-related calls have also increased.

Now four months into his new role, Correia said he hopes to partner with area organizations that specialize in mental health or addiction to help officers respond to calls or connect those in need with services. 

Some towns in the area have banded together to share a clinical staff member — a practice Correia is exploring. 

The department has partnered with local organizations for a weekly addiction drop-in center from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday nights, held at the Grace Lighthouse Church at 3065 Cranberry Highway.

Correia said that his officers try to treat people with “dignity and respect.”

Overall, he said the department sees many more calls for service, especially with the increase in the number of businesses in the town. 

The size of the department’s roster hasn’t kept up with the town’s growth, Correia said. The department currently has 42 officers — that’s a smaller force than the town had in the 70s.

“We always seem to be behind in personnel,” Correia said. “One of my goals is to somehow increase this department to ultimately increase the public safety of the community.”

A bigger department, Correia said, would make residents, visitors and officers safer.

“At some point, I need the town to take a leap of faith and hire more officers,” he said. 

Correia said he also wants to do his best to retain his current roster of officers, who he said he is very confident in. 

“Our officers work just as hard or harder than other communities around here,” Correia said. And the department, he said, is forced to do more with less, as Wareham has one of the highest call volumes in the county. 

Correia said that in an ideal world, the department would have about 60 officers, but he’d be happy with 52 — or 10 new officers.

Because of the low staff numbers, Correia said that the department is forced to be reactive — acting in response to emergencies — rather than proactive. He said he would like to develop a street crime team similar to those in Plymouth and Barnstable which would work to target crime in “hot spots” across town through proactive patrols and other measures.

Correia hopes to offer education to future law enforcement officers — perhaps through a mentorship program for criminal justice students at area colleges or an internship program. 

Despite staffing constraints, Correia said he is working to promote more community outreach across the department.

“I think it’s important in policing in general to start reaching out to people well before we see them at a car accident,” Correia said. 

To that end, he asks each officer to engage with the community twice per shift — whether they follow up with someone who had recently reported an attempted break-in, or simply talk with people they happen to meet along their patrol route. 

The department also has several shifts each week devoted exclusively to community engagement.

With the country’s attention on police reform, Wareham police are reviewing and updating procedures. While the department does not currently use body cameras, Correia thought that equipment will likely be added soon — or mandated by law.

“[The cameras] are going to show exactly what I already know,” Correia said. “We have good, caring, responsible, professional police officers.”

Most officers, he said, are open to the idea.

The department’s overall mission is unchanged: “Maintain public order for those who live here or visit [and] do that respectfully.”

“I feel that over my 25 years here that we always do just what’s necessary to keep the peace,” Correia said. “We want to do our jobs as peacefully as we can possibly do it.”