The Chilmark police department deals with all the major issues other Island towns face. But in the off-season, things can sometimes be rather slow.

On a recent quiet morning at the old schoolhouse turned police headquarters, Chief Sean Slavin fielded a phone call about seals.

“We’ve had multiple calls about that,” he told the caller. “The seals hang out on the beach, there’s nothing we really do. No, don’t touch it, they don’t have great eyesight and they can definitely bite you.”

It’s the kind of call unique to a department with a lot of waterfront in its beat, along with small-town values.

Chief Slavin was promoted to the top spot in February, following the retirement of his mentor Chief Jonathan Klaren. Having spent nearly his entire career as an up-Island officer, it is the kind of community police-work he knows and appreciates.

Chief Slavin started his career as a summer officer in Aquinnah in 1997. — Ray Ewing

Chief Slavin grew up in Natick, and came to the Island for the first time in 1997, fresh out of college for a summer officer position in Aquinnah.

“It was 90 per cent up at the Circle directing traffic, crosswalk stuff and tour buses, and then a little bit of running radar on the roads,” he said.

The experience gave him a good introduction to policework, he said, and traffic management in Menemsha is still a big part of his job.

Chief Slavin returned to the Aquinnah job full-time the next year, after graduating from the police academy. At an end-of-season barbecue hosted by Mr. Klaren, he got to talking to a Chilmark summer officer, Dardanella (Dardy) Muldaur. The two would later marry, although Ms. Slavin shifted from policing to chiropractic work. She runs Slavin Chiropractic, and the couple have two boys: Quinlan and Corrick.

After his start in Aquinnah, Mr. Slavin served in both the West Tisbury and Chilmark departments, completing the up-Island trifecta and giving him a good sense of different leadership styles.

“You need to evolve as a chief,” he said. “It used to be this kind of paramilitary model where the chief was the general and you did what he said...Those days are kind of over, there’s a lot more collaborative thinking in departments now.”

Among other changes, he noted how much easier it is to navigate the Island with GPS.

“When I started in Aquinnah, we just had a notebook that had handwritten directions to different streets. But there were very few street signs, so it would say something like, ‘take a right at the big oak tree after the rock,’” he said.   

Though Chilmark is a relatively peaceful town, the department has been exposed to all manner of cases over the years.

“I think people just don’t realize that things do happen in Chilmark, they just happen on a much smaller scale,” Chief Slavin said. “We’ve had everything from sexual assaults to domestic violence to breaking and entering.”

Policing in a town with an older demographic provides its own set of challenges. In particular, Chief Slavin said he hopes to address the increase in computer and telephone scams. When he was a sergeant, Mr. Slavin said, he got first-hand experience in that field while investigating a psychic healer who scammed more than $4 million from one Chilmark senior. He first got wind that something was wrong on a house call to the woman, who had Alzheimer’s.

“She had a bunch of stuff boxed up. And I said, “Oh, are you moving?” And she said, “Well, I’m hoping to move. Once my healer says all the demons are cleared.’ I was like, that’s a red flag.”

After getting the FBI involved, the healer was ultimately convicted and sent to federal prison.

“It taught me to ask the extra questions,” Chief Slavin said.    

Of course, when summer visitors arrive each year, department priorities shift, and more time is dedicated to managing that population. But still, for most of the year, Chief Slavin and his department can direct more time to individual concerns.

“I feel very lucky to work here, I do. It has to be one of the safer towns in the state,” he said. “We’re here to protect and serve, and I think we lean more towards the service part of it, which is good, because we have the time and the means.”