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Hancock's new police chief meets new set of challenges

November 29, 1996

By ELLEN LYON

Staff Writer

HANCOCK - When Donald R. Gossage started as a cadet with the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department in 1972, the city averaged between 160 and 180 homicides a year, he estimated.

That rate peaked at about 500 homicides a year three years ago and now has dropped to nearly one a night, Gossage said.

"You get kind of used to death and seeing death when you work in a big city like that," he said.

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On Sept. 11, Gossage left behind a 24-year police career in Washington, where he served most recently as a lieutenant in charge of a 60-officer task force on violent crime in a drug and gang-infested part of the city, to become chief of Hancock's small police department, which hasn't faced a murder in about 20 years.

He supervises two full-time police officers and one part-time officer and the department may be hiring three more part-time officers, he said.

Gossage, 43, said he is ready to embrace small-town life and he plans on using a "common sense" approach to its police work.

"The switch has been pretty easy for me to make because in the last three to four years ... a lot of my approach was community-oriented policing," Gossage said.

In fact, Community Policing News is the name of the new bimonthly newsletter put out by the Hancock Police Department.

Gossage said he has instructed his officers to avoid using a militaristic style and to be sensitive to crime victims and to people pulled over for traffic violations.

Community concerns should guide the police department in what crimes to especially target for prevention and law enforcement, he said.

"They want a human element in their police department," Gossage said.

Hancock's main problems seem to be with domestic violence, juvenile delinquency caused by a lack of activities for 12- to 18-year-olds, and noise ordinance violations, he said.

Gossage recalled his first experience with the latter when he was having dinner at Sculley's Restaurant on East Main Street with Hancock's mayor and town council about a week before he started his new job.

A Jeep passed in front of the restaurant, powerful stereo blaring, and the pictures on the wall and the dishes on the table actually rattled, he said.

Gossage said he has applied for a $21,000 grant to address juvenile delinquency issues.

The federal government would pay 75 percent of the grant through the state and the town would have to pick up the rest, he said.

According to Gossage, the grant would enable the department to do things like:

  • Order law enforcement trading cards with pictures of local police officers on the front and tips about safety and drug and alcohol abuse prevention on the back. The cards would encourage police interaction with the community because kids would have to collect them directly from officers.

    "I think that helps to introduce the officers to the community and show the kids the officers are not someone to be feared," he said.

  • Start a monthly three-on-three basketball tournament for kids sponsored by the police department.

  • Set up a weekly or twice-monthly video evening for youth in the Community Center. A local store has agreed to donate use of a free, recently released video and the Hancock Rotary will provide free refreshments, Gossage said.

    A police officer would be on hand to show short videos on issues like the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

  • Hold nighttime pool parties for youth during the summer.

  • Send police and youth to baseball, basketball and hockey games.


Gossage said he has also applied for a $10,000 federal/state grant to computerize the police department.

"What we want to do is begin tracking kids at risk in the community," he said. "We may need to begin to watch these kids ... and try to intercede before it's too late."

Gossage is starting a Police Advisory Council for Teens in January that will meet with him monthly and offer advice about youth issues.

Gossage, his wife and 7-year-old daughter have moved into a home within walking distance of the police department, he said.

After working between 60 and 70 hours a week in Washington, Gossage said he now enjoys going home for lunch and spending evenings with his family.

"It's been a welcome relief," he said of his new job.

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