Watertown Police Chief Michael Lawn left the only full-time job he has ever had after more than three decades, and said he still enjoyed coming to work everyday even after the challenges of the last few years.
On June 3, 2022, Lawn finished the final day of his 33 year career with the Watertown Police Department. When he joined the WPD at the age of 22, he always planned to retire when he was still young enough to do something else.
“When everyone was going to the Cape on the weekends when I was 22 I was patrolling the streets of Watertown,” Lawn said. “That was my plan, starting early, and a good part of that is I can get out early.”
What’s up next for him professionally is not clear, Lawn said, but he does know what one of his priorities will be.
“I’m just going to take the summer, I’m going to do something. I have a few things I want to do part time, but I really just want to concentrate on my family — spend more time with them,” Lawn said.
His youngest son will be starting college at Bentley in the fall, and will be playing on the hockey team there, so Lawn looks forward to catching all of his games.
Time as Chief
Looking back, Lawn said what he will miss most is the people he works with, among them were some of his family members
“Being able to work with my Dad, being able to work with my sister — who was here for a few years, and more recently with my nephew,” Lawn said. “I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years, great people, and with any job that’s what you missed the most.”
Lawn said he is proud of how the Watertown Police have dealt with the challenges of the past few years.
“Obviously, the last few years have been challenging with the things going on in the country and COVID, and everything else,” Lawn said. “It really tested you as a leader. But when you have such great men and women that work here, it just makes the job so much easier. The people that work here are incredible — the things that we do every day that people don’t hear about — it really makes the job as chief easy.”
He added, however, that there were some frustrating times.
“I think the most challenging thing is some awful incidents happened across the country and we got painted with that broad brush,” Lawn said. “I think that became the frustrating part, especially for me, and the officers here. Because we have always been committed to a very community oriented Police Department. We are involved in just about every facet of this community, from the Public Schools to the Recreation Department, the Boys & Girls Club, the Senior Center.
“I think that became frustrating, I understand it, but I would just hope that this community really supports this Police Department moving forward. If you watch the news every night, the police are needed and they need the support to really go out and do this job effectively.”
The Watertown Police Department is a young one, Lawn said, having hired about 75 percent of the officers over his six years as chief.
“So, they are very young and we are reinforcing with them that we will get through this,” Lawn said. “And they do. They keep coming in, doing the work; some days it is difficult, but they all keep their heads up they are all professional. I really think the Watertown Police are really in a good place right now.”
The WPD has undergone some positive changes, Lawn said, during his time as chief, including reimplementing the Citizens Police Academy, the K-9 program, and starting the critical incident stress team to help officers get the help they need after a major incident. Probably his favorite program, Lawn said, is the coffee with the chief each month at the Watertown Senior Center.
He is pleased with the state of the WPD as he retires.
“I think we are a very well trained, well disciplined, community oriented Police Department,” Lawn said. “It is because of everybody, not just me as a Chief.”
Moving Up the Ladder
Lawn spent the final six years as Police Chief, but he said that he was very happy just working nights as a patrol officer.
“I always enjoyed the job. I remember when I was a young police officer, I would go on vacation and I couldn’t wait to come back,” Lawn said. “I really enjoyed working nights. Every day is different.”
After seven years, Lawn moved to days to work with the Community Policing Division.
“That’s when we first started doing the bike patrol and programs in the schools, so I was assigned to that,” he said. “I worked there for a couple of years, then I was assigned as a night detective around 1999.”
In 2000, Lawn was promoted to sergeant and went back to nights, but shortly after that he was moved back to work as the sergeant for Community Policing, and was given the responsibility of the press information officer. In 2002, he became a lieutenant and was assigned as the commander of the Detective Division.
“All along the way I always worked overtimes on patrol. I always enjoyed working patrol,” Lawn said. “Having the ability to work in detectives as well as overtimes on patrol kind of gave me the best of both worlds.”
During his time as Detective Commander and press information officer, Watertown became the focus of the world for a time, after the Shootout with the Boston Marathon Bombers and the manhunt for Dzhokar Tsarnaev.
“It was a lot to deal with at the time,” Lawn said. “We handled all the media, and it was local, national, international media. I really gained a lot of experience during that time.”
He also served as the link between the Watertown Police and the FBI in the case against Tsarnaev.
“I was going to the FBI Building three times a week to meetings on the investigation, and stayed with it right through the trial,” Lawn said.
In January 2016 Lawn was sworn in as Watertown Police Chief.
Before he joined the WPD, Lawn said he was not sure that being a police officer was his calling. He took the Police Exam after his sophomore year in college, but said that back then it was common for people to take the test. Also, he could well have ended up in another community.
“I remember between my junior and senior year of college, Waltham Police called me,” Lawn said. “At the time I was like I don’t think I want to be a police officer.”
Lawn went as far as going through the application process in Waltham and getting a job officer, but when he was going through the psychological evaluation the tester sensed something.
“I really didn’t want it. I wanted to go back to school — I was playing basketball,” Lawn said. “He said, ‘I sense some ambivalence in you: 50 percent of you wants this and 50 percent doesn’t.”
Lawn turned down the offer from Waltham, as well as one from Barnstable. As a Civil Service job, prospective officers have two opportunities to turn down offers before being removed from the list.
“Finally, my senior year Watertown called …,” Lawn said. “My dad was working here at the time, it was my hometown that’s where I wanted to work. I kind of held out and got it.”