Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

May 1, 2013

A memorable ride

Lt. Collins retires after 30 years of policing

By Bill Kirk
bkirk@andovertownsman.com

---- — Lt. Harry Collins saw a lot in 30 years as a local police officer. But one case stands out among the others.

He was the first officer on scene at the Ramada Rolling Green Hotel off Route 133 in 1993 where three brothers, tourists visiting from New York City, drowned in the hotel pool.

“They stepped into the pool and couldn’t swim,” said Collins, 56, who retired on Tuesday. “One of the kids had rolled up his pant leg before going in the pool. But the water was 6 or 7 feet deep.”

Two of the brothers — 16-year-old twins — died at the scene. The third, age 13, died the next day at a Boston hospital.

The case drew national media attention, and the family filed a lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed. But changes were made in its wake, including the presence of heavy, metal fences now required around all hotel pools, Collins said.

It may be the most memorable, but it was just one of many cases over the years in Collins’ career, including 18 years as a patrolman, six years as a sergeant and another six as a lieutenant. He was vice president of the superior officers’ union as well.

Last week, Collins’ colleagues held a going-away party for him at the Chateau in Andover, inviting his wife, Christine, and other friends and family members. It was a complete surprise.

“He will be missed,” said Sgt. Pat Keefe, recently appointed as the new chief of the department. “One thing about Harry, he always seemed to be in a pretty good mood.”

Lt. Lee Britton, who worked with Collins on the night shift when they first started together 30 years ago, said he always looked forward to coming in to work when they were partners.

“He’s very energetic,” Britton said. Even as a lieutenant, which is primarily a desk job, he liked to get out of the office and ride around town for a couple of hours a day to see what was going on and “back up the guys on calls.”

A lifelong Andover resident, Collins didn’t restrict his community work to policing.

He was active in youth sports, coaching hockey, softball and soccer, while also playing a lot of sports himself, including golf. His daughters, Jackie and Samantha, were athletes at Andover High School.

“I’m a very competitive golfer,” said Collins, who declined to reveal his handicap. He is a member at Indian Ridge Country Club.

But, he said, upon retirement, “I’m going to paint my house. I’ve got a lot of stuff to do. And I’m going to play golf.”

While he could have stayed on the force until he was 65, Collins said he decided to retire because he was looking for a change.

“I want to try something else while I am still at an age I can do it,” he said, noting that he hopes to join a friend in creating a private security agency. “I’ll miss the people I work with, the guys I’ve been here for years with.”

But he said he doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.

“I’m in the book,” he said.

He said he’s very optimistic about the future of the department, which is filled with a lot of “quality people. ... There are a lot of great, young, intelligent officers on the force.”

Collins, who started his career in law enforcement as the first, full-time patrolman in Newcastle, N.H., said police work has changed significantly since he first pinned on the badge. In the old days, it wasn’t unusual to arrest someone in a fight or at a local tavern for misbehaving. Now, such calls are uncommon.

Instead, police officers have become in effect part of the social services network, helping people with mental health problems and domestic issues.

“When I came on the job, we’d do maybe two or three Section 12s a year,” he said, referring to mental health interventions. “Now, we do one a week. We are the last line of defense for some families, for people who are suicidal.”

Officers need to know how to negotiate with distraught people and mediate between family members.

“We could get more training on that, but you really learn by doing it on the job,” he said. “No two situations are alike. It’s a lot tougher than arresting someone in a bar fight.”