Gatepost Interview: John Santoro – Chief of Framingham State University Police
By Haley Hadge
What is your professional and educational background?
The highest degree that I have is a master’s degree in criminal justice administration, and I have a bachelor’s degree and three associate’s degrees as well. So the master’s in criminal justice administration – I got that from Western New England University. Last July, I just started my 33rd year of policing. I’ve been here at Framingham State University Police Department for 10 years. From October of 2010 up until this past summer, I’ve been serving as the deputy chief, and then over the summer, I was the interim chief of police, and eventually became the chief of police back in this past December. Prior to coming here to Framingham State University and serving as the deputy chief, I worked for the Methuen Police Department for 20 years and over there, I worked in a variety of capacities. I started as a part-time officer, then as a full-time officer. I eventually went to the detective division. After the detective division, I was assigned to city hall to the mayor’s office, and they appointed me as the Director of Emergency Management for the city. Over five-and-a-half years or so, I oversaw emergency management functions of the city, still as a police officer, but that was just my assignment over there.
What motivated you to apply to this position?
So my career goal all along, through those 30 to 33 years, was to eventually become a police chief, and be able to provide leadership for a department. Being here at Framingham State for the past 10 years serving as the deputy chief – that was sort of a step forward to where I was looking to go. I like it here. I 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.
What are your top three objectives entering into this new year as Chief of Police?
One of the objectives and, I guess in no particular order, would be to change the perception of the police department. So I want folks to understand that we’re here to help them. We’re a very transparent Police Department. We’re a very open police department. We’re not here to hurt anybody. We’re here to keep everybody safe. And we’re an approachable Police Department. There’s a negative perception of the police department that we want to change. ... We’re not here to hurt and we provide services for everyone here. So that’s one of the things, is really to change our perception to see that we are really friendly, outgoing members of the community as well. Some of us go to school here. Some of us, our children go to school here. Many officers’ children have gone, and go to school here. We’re members of the community as well. Another [objective] is to provide a safe environment for people to learn, work, and live. That goes for students, faculty, staff, visitors, guests, and anybody here on campus. Just like any other city or town we live, work, and learn. We want you to feel that here in this community as well. And be more approachable, have our officers be more approachable and outgoing.
What hobbies or activities do you enjoy in your free time?
I guess there’s a few. I’m a lifelong learner – as I said, I have five college degrees. If I had time, I would have probably gone for my Ph.D. in some sort of criminal justice field or gotten my law degree. But at this point, my focus is on my job right now, and to provide the best I can here at the P.D. I love to learn. I love to go to trainings. For a little bit more fun, I like to golf. I’d love to travel internationally [and] domestically, and also, I like to act. I haven’t done anything in a while because again, I’m focusing on my job. I’ve acted in local productions. I’ve acted in Hollywood productions, and some independent movie companies. I’ve done training in compliance videos. I’ve done print media, and stuff like that. So that’s my secret hobby, you know, but again, that’s last on my line because I try to take care of all my other stuff first. It’s a great way to step out of the norm, the realm, of everyday life and do something a little different that people don’t expect out of you.
Do you have any advice for students?
I think the students should really enjoy their time here because it goes by quickly. I remember my days of going to college, getting there like, “Oh my god, I’m away from home.” And before you know it, “Boom,” I was graduating, and it just seemed to go by in a blink of an eye. I didn’t take advantage of a lot of opportunities. Later on down the line, I regret not doing some clubs, or doing some other things or hanging out more. Because my first college I went to, we went to school four days a week and we worked three days a week. So I just focused on the work part. . So you know, I didn’t take advantage of verything that was there. So I think students should really enjoy their time here, take advantage of as much stuff as possible, and really have some fun while learning. But, I’m on the police side of it now and the parent side now. So I’ll say, “Go and have that fun, but be safe and be responsible when you’re having that fun.” Because you just never know what can happen – what can go wrong. You don’t want to overdo it. It’s part of your learning – going away to college away from home, usually away from your friends and family support people. So you know, you just need to be safe. Have fun but be safe about it.
Is there an overarching message you would like to convey to the FSU community?
The police department’s here to serve all members of the Framingham State community. Students, faculty, staff, guests, visitors, and being an open campus like we are, we have neighbors walking through campus. So we have interactions with citizens, too, and we still need to be good neighbors. So we’re here to serve everybody in the community. We want to keep them all safe. One of the other messages I want to get out there – people are very reluctant to contact the police. Sometimes, I don’t know what the reasons are. Maybe they’re afraid and say, “I don’t want to be a pain,” or “I don’t want to be a tattletale.” So I always say, “Err on the side of caution.” Contact the police if you have something that you’re questioning, whether it’s from parking, to a suspicious person, to something you saw if something doesn’t seem right. Call us up and let us sort through, let us figure out what’s going on. Don’t put yourself in jeopardy. Just be a great set of eyes and ears and contact us and say, “Hey, I see this going on. I just want to let you know about it.” We’ll say, “Thanks,” and we’ll get as much information as we can and we’ll go look into the matter... We want folks to report the stuff as soon as possible.