By Haley Hadge
A ghost-busting officer for the NYPD by night – and an actual police officer by day.
An actor, a chef, and an o8cer of the law – three passions rolled into one self-proclaimed life-long learner.
This describes John Santoro, who was named the University’s new police chief by the Police
Chief/Director of Public Safety Search Committee and announced in an email Dec. 20. He beat two outside candidates for the position.
Outside of the police station, Santoro has acted in a range of theater performances from local to Hollywood productions.
You may catch him as an NYPD police officer in the 2016 reprise of “Ghostbusters.”
He said acting provides him “a sense of relief.
“It’s something to do to take me away from the stresses of everyday life – to get lost, if you will, and to step out of my realm.”
Santoro added though his experience as an actor is limited, it has helped him gain confidence from a young age.
This has helped him be more receptive to “other people’s suggestions and ideas,” he said.
His tempo quickened with enthusiasm as he recalled his time spent learning and developing his culinary skills – an enthusiasm equal to when discussing his other love in life – policing.
The first higher education degree Santoro earned was an associate’s in Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. But it was from a young age that these two passions were formed.
From the young age of 8 he began seasoning his culinary skills by “working in the Weld.
“I would help them load and unload the trucks and cut cucumbers and lettuce and wash dishes, and just be around and watch it all,” he said.
He embraced the family motto “food is love and love is food.”
For now, the curtain has closed on Santoro’s culinary career, and a new scene has been set.
“Now, I’m the one sitting in the chair in the dining room, getting waited on, and enjoying the meal,” he said.
In the fall of 1986, following culinary school, Santoro decided to explore volunteer police work, the same way his father entered the world of policing. He worked on a volunteer basis for about three years while he continued employment in the restaurant business.
“I really took a liking to it. And I said, ‘You know, I think it’s time for a career change.’”
Santoro earned his master’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Western New England University.
In the summer of ’89, he began full-time policing within different departments, embarking on the path that has led him to the position of chief of police at the University.
Santoro worked in both Welds until 2019, when he and his wife sold their restaurant of nine years, “Good Day Cafe,” in North Andover.
“It was an empty shell. We designed it, built it, menu planned – everything. And built up a very
successful business that grew and grew every year,” he said.
One of Santoro’s first gigs as a part-time officer was at the Somerville Housing Authority Police Department.
He then moved on to the Methuen Police Department. There he worked his way up to a full-time officer, then to the detective division, the Mayor’s office, and eventually was appointed director of Emergency Management.
He served at Somerville Housing Authority for about two-and-a-half years, Methuen for 20 years, as deputy chief of FSU for the past 10 years, and has acquired a total of 33 years of law enforcement experience.
“I’ve enjoyed my time here for the past 10 years, or 10 and a half years now. And I wanted to continue to stay here and continue to provide leadership to the members of our department,” he said.
Santoro said this semester the department is running a student intern pilot program. Part of this program includes participating in “ride-alongs.”
He said he hopes the intern learns there are “multiple hats the o8cer has to wear. And sometimes those hats are all on at the same time.
“We have to be a communicator, we have to be a filter, answer medical calls, mental health calls, handle civil calls, we have to keep people calm, and keep people safe.”
Now, as police chief, one of Santoro’s main goals is to change the FSUPD’s perception among students.
He expressed his hope for students to eventually feel comfortable approaching his officers.
“We’re not here to hurt anybody. We’re here to keep everybody safe.”
SGA President McKenzie Ward said that’s what campus police officers are here for – “making sure that students feel safe and heard on this campus.”
The ideal police chief to Ward is “someone who prioritizes students and sees them as their first and main concern.”
Upholding her own vow to “make sure that student voices are heard on campus,” Ward has spoken with Chief Santoro about the FSUPD cultivating more “community connection with students.”
She said she highly values the efforts made by the search committee to ensure student voices were nheard in open forums held for each candidate.
She added, Santoro’s unwavering “student-first mindset” throughout the interview process was also appreciated.
Dr. Lorretta Holloway, vice president of student enrollment and student development, served as the committee chair in the police chief/director of public safety search.
She said what differentiated Santoro from the other candidates was his breadth of “experience with emergency preparedness.”
This includes his ability to work with local officials, host tabletop exercises, and organize exercises with Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) where they run through scenarios that require quick thinking and de escalating action, she said.
Holloway added, “Policing has a tendency to be one of two kinds ... there’s the ‘warrior’ mentality and the ‘guardian’ mentality.”
College and university campuses need their police to follow the creed of the guardian mentality, she said – to serve and protect.
Due to “the increased militarization of policing over the years,” Holloway said she sees more “warrior- type people than guardian-type people” entering the force.
Therefore, it was “essential” for all the finalists in the police chief search to operate under the guardian mentality, she added.
Santoro said, “I do take my job home with me. ... I’m on call 24/7, 365 – so, my phone is at the ready at all times.
“We’re not just employees, but we serve in a variety of roles as members of the community.”
He reminisced on an outreach event the department held where they handed out slices of pizza, coffee, and doughnuts to students.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to this type of face-to-face connection, but the department has plans for future outreach as the pandemic allows.
He encourages students to reach out “to any one of our officers, anytime, email us, call us, stop by and visit us.”
[Editor’s Note: Students can contact the FSUPD at: 508-626-4911. McKenzie Ward is Opinions Editor of The Gatepost.]