Community room carries on former Portsmouth chief’s legacy

Space at police station is named in honor of Retired Chief Thomas Lee

By Jim McGaw
Posted 11/14/19

PORTSMOUTH — Six years ago when Thomas Lee took over the reigns of the Police Department, be brought with him a vision, according to his successor, Chief Brian Peters.

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Community room carries on former Portsmouth chief’s legacy

Space at police station is named in honor of Retired Chief Thomas Lee

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Six years ago when Thomas Lee took over the reigns of the Police Department, be brought with him a vision, according to his successor, Chief Brian Peters.

“It was a vision of an agency reared in a community that worked together as partners, making the town of Portsmouth a better place,” Chief Peters said at a ceremony honoring Chief Lee at the police station Thursday afternoon. 

Chief Lee retired in July after serving since 2013. Although his biggest legacy will perhaps be his support for a new police station and witnessing its opening just months before he left office, his influence is far more reaching, according to Chief Peters.

“The vision can be seen here today in this physical building, (but) Chief Lee’s legacy is not only in this structure, but in the attitude of our officers and the relationship we’ve developed in the community. While Chief Lee’s name will always be associated with this police station, we cannot forget the contributions of community connections that (he) developed,” said Chief Peters.

Under his former boss’ leadership, the department revived its Citizens Police Academy, “enabling us to show members of our community the unique inner workings of the police culture here in Portsmouth,” Chief Peters said.

The department also joined other departments around the county in celebrating National Night Out, an annual event held the first Tuesday in August, “which brings the police and the community together, with an opportunity to see the police as individuals,” the chief said.

Under Chief Lee, the agency made it a priority to reach out to local youth, “whether it was handing out free ice cream bars on the hot summer days, or making sure children were safe and seen on Halloween by sending officers out with glow necklaces to hand out to the children.”

Since Chief Lee worked to ensure local police developed personal interactions with its citizens, it was only fitting the community room in the police station be named in his honor, Chief Peters said.

“It’s a great honor that we dedicate this room to the perpetual legacy of strong community relationships between the citizens of Portsmouth and its police department, by memorializing this room as the Colonel Thomas F. Lee Community Room,” he said as officers removed a cover on a wall plaque to applause. 

“This room is the heart of the police station; that’s how I look at it,” said Chief Lee. “We needed a place to have community events, community meetings, to have our Citizens Police Academy. We lacked a proper place (before). This room is one of the big reasons why I wanted a new police station built.”

Afterward, a humbled Chief Lee cut into some cake and called the ceremony a great honor. 

“They got me by surprise, too. About two weeks ago they invited me down, supposedly for lunch or something, and then they brought me in here and told me about it,” he said.

Chief Lee, who recently built a new home in Salisbury, Mass. along with his wife, was asked if he misses the job.

“I miss the good parts,” he said with a smile.

Anyone can use it

The community room is open to all members of the community, said Chief Peters. 

“If they want to reserve this room, they can call the records clerk or the administrative assistant, and she can set it up. We also use this for our trainings,” he said.

Other groups have also held trainings there, including Portsmouth Emergency Management Agency. The Census Bureau and some youth and women’s groups have also used the room.

“We’re starting to get the word out little by little,” Chief Peters said.

Strong community relationships are important to the success of a police department, which is something Chief Lee always pushed, he said.

“It’s about getting out there and dealing with the public and interacting.”

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.