Charlie Pierce on the Sunday morning scene in Watertown:
“It’s really been something,” he said a few minutes later. “It’s kind of like after 9/11. Everybody likes cops again. It’s kind of weird, to tell you the truth.
“Hey, you should come to the headquarters and see all the food.”
Ever since last Thursday night, when the Tsarnaev brothers came crashing up Mt. Auburn Street and all hell broke loose in Watertown, people have been stopping by the Watertown police headquarters further down Main Street, dropping off all manner of baked goods and sandwiches, boxes of coffee, and, yes, doughnuts by the carton. (“Take a doughnut,” MacLellan says. “Please.”) The roll call room looked very much like an overamped food court. Domino’s has had a big week, as have the higher-end pizza shops in town. One order was phoned in by the people working in an office of the U.S. Customs Service. In Seattle.
“It’s unbelievable,” MacLellan said again. “Yesterday, every one of these tables was full. We’ve even hired a couple of people to distribute the perishable stuff so it doesn’t go bad. We can’t eat all of this. No, really, take some of it.”
Short, bullnecked, but with an easy smile and a Boston accent that makes Denis Leary sound like Bill Weld, MacLellan was the patrol commander on Thursday night when he heard a radio call about a carjacking in Cambridge that was headed up Mt. Auburn Street and into Watertown. “I told my officer to follow them but not to approach them,” he said. “Then I got there, and all hell broke loose.” MacLellan took part in the ensuing firefight that shot up the neighborhood in and around Laurel Street. He emptied his weapon. Now, the forensic guys have it, and MacLellan’s on three weeks worth of “administrative leave” — what some cops indelicately call “ass duty” — while all the gunplay gets sorted out. After that, he could face what now appears to be an endless rondelay of court appearances, legal proceedings, and a interminable opportunity to take part in what a defense lawyer friend of mine calls, “riding every ride in Depositionland.” He could be taking a lot of oaths over the next couple of years.
This one case could be a lot of what John MacLellan does as a police officer for a very long time. His life changed completely in those minutes along Laurel Street.
“How do I get back to being an ordinary officer?” he said. “I don’t know if I can for a while.”
A lot has been made by politicians and pundits of the cooperation between the people of Watertown and the various investigative agencies who worked the case last week. This is, remarkably, considered somewhat remarkable. But this is the way that it’s supposed to be. This is why really good cops hate really bad cops as much as they do. Really good cops know how valuable the public trust really is, how much more easy the public trust can make their jobs. So when a cop gets brutal, or venal, or stupid, and some of that trust drains away, everybody loses. After all, this is what the purpose was when so many people went back to what is called “community policing” a few years back. (My grandfather, a detective on the Worcester P.D. for 20 years, would have called this “walking a beat,” but no matter.) He was born in Watertown and never left. He’s been on the job here for 24 years.
Prior to this pst week, he only time he hit the news was when he busted a fellow officer for failing to properly serve a restraining order. He also has helped run his department’s rape-prevention and self-defense program. Nobody had to write a memo to teach John MacLellan how to be a community police officer. And, on Thursday night, community policing meant hauling ass to Laurel Street and getting shot at, and shooting back, and now it means he’s off the street until it all gets sorted out.
“No kidding,” John MacLellan said. “Take something, willya? It’s all going to go to waste if it just sits there.”
But then a friend of his named Stephanie, who came back to the headquarters with us, and who took some food for herself, had an idea. There’s a coffee hour down at St. Patrick’s after the 10 o’clock Mass. “That’s a great idea,” MacLellan said. “Here, we can all take some.” And that’s what we did, the last act of a very strange drama. John MacLellan, a community police officer, his friend, and one reporter trolling for whatever was left of the story in Watertown, we all brought some cookies down to the church and went about our business.