For many people, their first real interaction with the police comes at a traumatic time in their life.
Hopkinton Deputy Police Chief John Porter can relate.
Porter, who recently was honored for 30 years with the department, was a child in Upton when the police made regular appearances at his house.
“My mother’s first husband, my biological father, was an abusive person, so the police were at our home a lot to assist her and keep her and myself and my sisters safe,” he recalled. “Because of this, they kind of took me under their wing.”
The two officers Porter spent the most time with were Phil Powers and Chuck Wallace, who both became officers in Hopkinton (and have since retired).
“Instead of letting me off as a goofy little kid, they would let me play with their radar gun,” Porter said. “They used to allow me to get on my bicycle to see how fast I could pedal. They just kind of took over that father figure-type in my younger years growing up.
“My mother eventually remarried, and he was a much better guy and took me under his wing. But I never forgot the things Chuck and Phil had done for me when I was growing up. And it made me determined to become a police officer.”
When he turned 18, Porter was hired by the Upton Police Department as a dispatcher. One year later, there was an opening for an officer. Porter was selected and, after attending the Police Academy, became one of the youngest officers in the state (the minimum age since has been raised to 21).
“At that time in my life it was a great honor and something that was really exciting, but looking back in hindsight, at 19 years old becoming a police officer I was just a little bit too young,” he said. “As much as I hate to admit it, I was immature and trying to learn how to become an adult, a man, myself. Being thrust into that role, going to homes and calls, tragedies with people I’d grown up with, or seeing [domestic incidents] with people I had grown up with or my parents had grown up with just became a little too overwhelming.”
When an opportunity arose to join the force in Hopkinton three years later, Porter made the move — rejoining Powers and Wallace in the process — and, “Hopkinton has been my home ever since.”
Porter has served in a variety of roles in town, including as the town’s first school resource officer — a job he said came about by “accident.”
Now-Chief Joseph Bennett beat out Porter for a promotion to sergeant. As a consolation, then-Chief Tom Irvin offered Porter a new assignment.
“The schools are a community within a community here in town, and [Irvin] asked me if I would take on that project,” Porter recalled. “Not knowing anything about it, I tried to learn all about that atmosphere. It was a rewarding and extremely great challenge for me.
“It allowed me to learn a lot about the educational system, how it is different from what we do out in the community, and really ingrained in me the importance of the forgiveness of mistakes and helping people learn and get better from things they may have done wrong without having to carry a record for the rest of their life.”
After seven years in the schools, Porter became a detective in 2005. Just a few months later, in January of 2006, the town was shaken when a young mother and her 9-month-old daughter were found dead in the home they had just started renting on Cubs Path. The husband, Neil Entwistle, eventually was convicted of their murders.
“I still remember getting the phone call,” Porter said. “I was at my in-laws’ house having Sunday dinner with our family like we always did. I got the call from the station and I thought they were just messing with me. Coming in, it was just a whirlwind of emotions, trying to do what was best for the family. [Fellow detective] Scott van Raalten and myself, we connected with Rachel and Lillian’s family. We were determined to do everything we could to get them closure and make make sure [the murderer] was brought to justice.”
As the officers worked on the investigation, Entwistle flew to his family’s home in England. Porter soon followed and talked to the suspect there before Entwistle was arrested and extradited to Massachusetts to face charges. Entwistle was convicted in 2008 and is serving a life sentence, despite he and his family insisting upon his innocence.
“It was just ridiculous, the lies that they were trying to come up with,” Porter said. “The evidence was just overwhelming.”
Porter still carries a reminder of that case in his office.
“On my window sill I have a picture of Rachel and Lillian that [Rachel’s] parents gave me from [Lillian’s] christening on December 10th of 2005. It’s always been in my office to let me remember them, so they’re not forgotten.”
More recently, Porter was one of the officers who responded to an incident on Eastview Road that put his life in danger.
“We had a suicidal male who had barricaded himself in his parents’ home and doused the house with gasoline, his intention being to set the house on fire, killing himself and burning down his family home over an argument he had had with his parents prior to that. The gentleman obviously suffered from mental difficulty,” Porter said. “We responded to the home, we were able to surround the home and we were working on trying to get him out, talking to him. I was assigned to the back of the home to keep watch, and while I was back there, he ran out the back door and into the woods. I was able to give chase. He had dropped down into some clovers and was hiding in those. As I got closer he jumped up and he had a butcher’s knife in his hand and was threatening to kill me. I was able to disarm him and take him into custody without having to use my firearm. The town awarded me a medal of valor for that.”
Porter noted that the department has made strides in the area of dealing with mental illness. In Hopkinton, arrests are a last option, he said, and an importance is placed on finding root causes to issues.
“When I first came on, you were trained to catch the bad guys, stop the speeders,” he said. “But it was not addressing any underlying factors as to why someone was a drunk driver — do they have alcoholism problem, or did they have a crisis with their family? Now we address the causes and try to get the individual and the family help, as opposed to just ‘cuff ’em and stuff ’em,’ for lack of a better term.”
As he passes the 30-year mark with the department, Porter — who has seen the town more than double in size during his three decades on the force — continues to adapt and adjust, now as second in command to Bennett, his longtime coworker and friend.
“Here in Hopkinton it’s just been an incredible, long journey,” Porter said. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been 30 years, but looking back at all the things that the town has supported me in and helped me accomplish, I’m very happy with the move that I made to come here.”