Harold “Tony” Physic experienced a lot of lasts as a Watertown Police Officer recently: his last time judging the Dancing with the Stars earlier this month, the last time marching in the Memorial Day Parade on Monday, and on Wednesday his last roll call.
After 34 years, Physic is retiring from the Watertown Police Department, having left his mark on his fellow police officers and the community that he served and protected.
While he has patrolled many parts of town, for the last 15 years Physic was assigned to the dayshift patrol of the East End of town.
“I’ve seen the community change and the people change,” Physic said, noting that the area used to be more of a family oriented neighborhood.
Watertown Police Chief Michael Lawn said Physic really connected with the people on his beat.
“If anything happened he took it personally,” Lawn said. “He knows the neighborhood, he knows the people. He is the epitome of community policing.”
At well over six feet tall, Physic could have be an intimidating presence, but his demeanor and the big smile that could usually be seen on his face are disarming.
“He’s just got that personality, that charisma,” Lawn said. “He loves to talk, whether out in the community, at a board of directors meeting or as an emcee at an event. He’s also got that presence on the street. When he talks, people listen.”
Physic said he always tried to treat people with respect, even in the most extreme situations or when he was called unsavory names.
“I went into any situation with the idea you should treat people how you want to be treated,” Physic said. “Even with the bad guys.”
A few times, he has been approached by people who he had previously arrested.
“I would be on the street, shopping, and catch someone staring,” Physic said.
It was someone he had to get physical with when responding to an incident, and the man said, “You treated me like a man, thank you.”
With the diversity of cultures in Watertown, particularly in the East End, Physic said he has gotten to know people from a wide range of areas.
“We have Iranians, Syrians, Turkish people,” Physic said. “I have taken part in their cultural celebrations. The Iranian have Nowruz, which is their New Year and is on the first day of spring in March. Other Muslims celebrate Iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan.”
Physic added that he wanted everyone in town to feel comfortable with the Watertown Police, which is why he was proud that the WPD put out a pamphlet in seven languages saying that anyone should feel safe contacting police, no matter where they come from or their immigration status.
“It says that we are a community base police department, and those that are here that might not be here legally, don’t fear us,” Physic said. “I would hate for someone in need of help not to call because they are fearful of calling police.”
Working with Other Officers
Over his career, Physic helped shape many of the officers in the Watertown Police Department. He was the field trainer for many years, and some of the officers he work with are now in leadership positions, including the Chief.
Lawn said it seemed like he got all the experiences an officer faces during his time riding with Physic, including his first car chase, the first time he had to give CPR, and his first time chasing down a suspect.
“I say I learn more in the three months (with Physic) than I did my entire career,” Lawn said. “My first night we got into a foot chase at the Mall and I went through a glass window, and I ended up in hospital.”
Lawn said Physic was strict and by the book during his training.
“We stopped a car on Main Street and I when the driver reached into the glove compartment I saw he had a gun,” Lawn said. “I calmly said to him, hey there’s a gun in there. Later, (Physic) tore into me. He said. ‘You yell, Gun! You gotta yell!”
Physic said he had some good training officers, himself, when he was a young officer, including Lt. Bobby McElroy and Officer Eddie Bakerian. He credits many others for helping along the way, including the five chiefs under whom he served.
Physic also served as a fire arms trainer and more recently he has been a part of a group that works with officers who have experienced a traumatic event or something that may stick with him or her after the event. He works with the Critical Incident Stress Management team that works with officers not just from Watertown but with nine area cities and towns.
“If I can give back and make sure officers are safe and also mentally strong, I will,” Physic said. “It is a place to go talk about what they have seen. We don’t want them to go to a call and flashing back to something in the past.”
Lawn said the group was started after the Boston Marathon Bombings when the normal place the Watertown Police would get such help, the Boston Police Department, was busy with its own officers.
Physic said he and others in WPD did the same thing informally before the group was created. He also hopes to continue after he retires. Lawn said it is up to the chiefs of the departments in the group to vote to allow a retired officer to take part.
Active in the Community
Along with patrolling the area, Physic got involved with many groups in town.
When he first moved to Watertown around 1979, he and his family lived in public housing because at the time they were also veterans housing. He served on the Watertown Housing Authority Board as a resident representative.
More recently he worked with the Kingian Nonviolence group, becoming a trainer in the non-violent conflict resolution methods based on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In 2011, he received the Unity Award during Watertown’s annual MLK Day Unity Breakfast, and this year he served as the emcee of the event. That is where he publicly announced his retirement.
Physic also made headlines by winning the Rotary Club of Watertown’s 2018 Watertown Dancing with the Stars, and in 2019 he served as one of the judges.
He anticipates continuing his work with some of these organizations after he retires.
“The Marshall Home Fund asked me to be a part of their board, which I accepted,” Physic said. “And the Unity Breakfast Committee and Rotary Club have asked me to return.”
Physic grew up in Boston in the Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods, and he said his family always had a tradition of public service.
“My mother worked as a nursing attendant at the Boston State Hospital (the former psychiatric hospital) and my father was one of the first black firefighters in Boston. Unfortunately then they didn’t put black firefighters on the front lines,” Physic said, adding that his father became a mechanic working on fire vehicles.
One of his sisters was a social worker and another was a teacher in the Boston Public Schools.
Physic said he was drawn to being a police officer.
“I had a need and wanted to know: if something was going on, I like to be the one who knows what’s going on,” Physic said.
His career began in the U.S. Army and for 13 years served in the National Guard as a Military Police officer. He decided to move into municipal policing before the cutoff age of 30.
As he was just starting his career as a municipal police officer, Physic said he thought he was headed to another community.
Physic and his family had moved to Watertown, but he took his municipal police exam at Brookline High School in 1984.
“For some reason they had my home address as Brookline,” Physic said.
The Brookline Police Chief was going to offer Physic a job, but when he learned he wasn’t from Brookline he said that he had to offer it to Brookline residents first.
Physic was concerned because he was not sure he would be able to start before he turned 30, but the Brookline Chief contacted the Watertown Police Chief and he was placed on the list in Watertown.
Physic could taken early retirement, and is retiring now because he has reached the mandatory retirement age for municipal police officers in Massachusetts, 65. He said he is happy that he is going into retirement on his own terms.
“I have been coming to work, and up to the last day, because I enjoy coming to work,” Physic said.
Some asked him why he never became a higher ranked officer, or took a position in a different division of the WPD, but Physic said he felt like his strength was being a patrol officer interacting with the public.
He has plans for his new free time. Along with working with community groups and helping police officers, he recently bought a “big long trailer.” He plans to take his grandson in on trips in his camper. He’ll also take some time for himself.
“I’m just going to take it easy,” Physic said.