Police chief: 'Lives are very dear'

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Police Chief John V. Polio is proof that one man can make a difference. As a young officer, he discovered a suicide victim moments after the fact. ''It didn't have to happen,'' he recalls sadly.

Later, as police chief of this Boston suburb, he took steps to ensure a suicide wouldn't happen again. In 1976, when a new police headquarters was built , one of his priorities was to ''make the holding cells as suicide-proof as possible.'' Since then, no one has completed a suicide here.

Each cell has a wood-framed Plexiglas door, smooth walls with recessed lights , a plain wooden bench, knobless sink faucets, audio monitors covered with fine steel mesh, and high ceilings. The cells are painted a soft yellow.

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''People are still people. If you incarcerate someone, they don't become something other than people. A holding cell shouldn't be a Ceasar's Palace, but it should be safe and sanitary,'' Chief Polio says.

Why aren't such concerns more widespread?

''I hope I'm wrong, but I fear that the mentality in many law enforcement circles is to treat people as less than people. Therefore, they may not have a great concern about safety or sanitary conditions.''

Law officials aren't totally to blame, he says. Society, too, often turns its back on those detained. ''More thought should be given to what confinement does to one. In so many people's eyes, the detainees are bad and deserve to be treated poorly. Whatever happens to them, deserves to happen. I hope this mentality is disappearing.''

''People in there have been traumatized, frustrated, and are ashamed. It may be the first time they've ever seen the inside of a detention room. Often, people forget this.

''Who thinks of all these things? But you've got to, because you're dealing with people and their lives are very dear,'' says Polio.

Several towns in the area have copied the design of Chief Polio's detainment cells.

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