Portsmouth gives retiring Police Chief Lee a stylish sendoff

New police station called his crowning legacy

By Jim McGaw
Posted 7/11/19

PORTSMOUTH — The ceremony, planned a couple of weeks in advance, was supposed to have started at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 11, in front of the police station.

But at 9:50, when two …

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Portsmouth gives retiring Police Chief Lee a stylish sendoff

New police station called his crowning legacy


PORTSMOUTH — The ceremony, planned a couple of weeks in advance, was supposed to have started at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 11, at the police station.

But at 9:50, when two reporters arrived to cover retiring Police Chief Thomas Lee’s “walk-out” after six years in charge of the force, he was already in his getaway car as bagpipes wailed from the parking lot.

Several onlookers said an emotional Chief Lee was getting antsy and requested the ceremony start earlier than planned. He just wanted it to be over.

He remained stoic, however, throughout the event.

“He held it in,” said Town Council member Keith Hamilton, who attended the event along with other current and past council members, town staff, police officers and family, friends and supporters.

When asked what Chief Lee’s legacy will be in Portsmouth, Mr. Hamilton motioned to the new building behind him. 

“It’s the police station. When he got here, I think during his first walk-through, he was shocked that the guys and gals at the time were doing such a great job out of what used to be over here,” he said, pointing to the new parking lot, where the old, 5,000-square-foot station once stood. “This will be his legacy.”

Voters approved the borrowing of $10 million to build the new station in 2016, after Chief Lee advocated for a modern police facility that better suited the growing town.

Mr. Hamilton said Chief Lee also “brought a higher level professionalism to the force,” something that new Police Chief Brian Peters — he was sworn in Wednesday — saw for himself as deputy chief and his righthand man.

“He’s a great person for all his experience, and everything else he brought to Portsmouth was top-notch and first class,” Chief Peters said. “It kind of made us realize what we had here, and to appreciate what we had here in this town. We were kind of going along, doing what we had to do, but I think once Chief Lee came here, he gave us a new direction, a new sense of purpose — a place to go.”

He added, “His legacy is definitely going to be this building, but I wouldn’t even put that on the top 10 things of what Chief Lee has done here, as far as improving the conditions of the town, improving the quality of life for the officers and morale. Those are going to be some of the things that Chief Lee’s going to be remembered for inside the building.”

Chief Peters, whom many in town had hoped would one day become Portsmouth’s police chief, retired as deputy chief last year and later took a job as interim police chief in Bristol. He was appointed chief in Portsmouth after Chief Lee announced his retirement.

Lt. Peters will technically be interim chief until September, when Chief Lee’s retirement becomes official after his unpaid vacation days run out.

“I’m definitely happy to be back,” Chief Peters said. “I learned a lot under Chief Lee. I couldn’t have had a better person to learn from and be exposed to his experience. What I learned under him was immeasurable.”

Chief Lee served with the Boston Police Department for 34 years, reaching the rank of deputy superintendent, before he was named chief in Portsmouth in 2013. His wife Mary, who accompanied him during the ceremony Thursday, is a police officer in Boston.

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