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For Wellesley police sergeant, the camera is always loaded

Posted by Leslie Anderson  August 20, 2010 11:24 AM

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Two Wellesley police officers, armed only with a huge net, work to rescue ducks from a sewer on Grove Street.

Photos

A dispatcher slouches in a chair, her fingertips pressed to her forehead, as she focuses intently on a computer screen.

Wellesley’s finest jog through downtown in Santa Claus hats and red shirts, as a uniformed officer directing traffic waves them on.

Since joining the force 15 years ago, Sergeant Scott Whittemore has photographed countless crime scenes and accidents for the Wellesley Police Department. But it’s the moments he captures in between that provide a unique window into the daily — and nightly — dramas of police work.

‘‘For me, photographs really capture the essence of what it’s like to be a police officer in a smaller community,’’ Whittemore said. ‘‘You see everything — horrific accidents, fires, and little funny, lighter sides.’’

A few weeks ago, for example, he was making his midnight rounds, with a camera on the passenger seat of his cruiser, when he saw a fox cross the street. As it approached a skunk in a nearby graveyard, Whittemore started taking pictures.

He dubbed the resulting series of photos ‘‘Battle at Village Church,’’ and added them to his website, www.wellesleypdphoto.com, which draws viewers from around the region.

Whittemore started the website five years ago when he could no longer keep up with requests for copies of photos that he featured in slideshows at the department’s annual open house.

Police Chief Terrence Cunningham said Whittemore has helped create a brand for the department, not only with the website but also on social networking sites such as Twitter. In times of budget cuts, showing townspeople the services they receive from their police force is more important than ever, he said.

‘‘It’s a great opportunity to hone his skills as well,’’ said Cunningham, who knew Whittemore from around the neighborhood as a youngster. ‘‘It’s a hobby for him, but he’s really using that instrumentally in the department. He does a great job.’’

The department sometimes uses Whittemore’s work in its daily duties, like when an oil tanker caught fire on Interstate 95, Cunningham said. Whittemore recorded the fire on digital video, and officers police were able to use the tape to analyze the incident.

Lieutenant Marie Cleary, who has worked with Whittemore for 12 years, said his photographs enhance the department’s image.

‘‘It helps the public to see us as people and not just as police officers,’’ Cleary said. ‘‘It helps to break down the barriers.’’

When citizens get pulled over in a car or pass police directing traffic, they only see the professional aspect of an officer, said Whittemore. The public doesn’t see the dedication they put into tasks and training, or the calls that come into a police station at night, he said.

‘‘Photos get a sense of the full span of emotions an officer has,’’ said Whittemore. ‘‘People don’t believe the stuff that happens in Wellesley, but we want to be transparent in our department and tell the public what we do.’’

Posting photos on his website helps Whittemore reach out to the community in other ways, he said, such as featuring scenes from the Youth Academy program he helped facilitate last month. Parents were able to see for themselves every evening what their children had learned that day.

Whittemore has been a photographer for most of his life, and provided shots for The Boston Globe as a freelancer when he was in high school.

When he joined the force, other officers asked him to photograph crime scenes and accidents. But he began taking behind-the-scenes pictures as well.

His website describes its role as ‘‘photographing Wellesley Police Department history,’’ documenting everything from new uniforms and cruisers to a new station.

‘‘There were a lot of changes in the past 10 to 15 years,’’ Whittemore said. ‘‘It’s amazing to look back at how much younger officers look, and the ones who are retired.’’

Efforts like Whittemore’s help to provide information on prominent organizations that may otherwise lack much recorded history, said Martin Padley, president of the Wellesley Historical Society.

‘‘What they’re doing is not only interesting at the time for the members of the organization, but is of interest to anyone who may be doing a research project down the line,’’ said Padley.

Whittemore can even look back at all the photography equipment he has gone through on the job. The digital Nikon he has now takes good pictures in all weather conditions, even on a midwinter night at 10 degrees below zero, he said.

One of his favorite photos was the result of experimenting with a new camera in the dark. The picture depicts dispatcher Bobby Rowe standing at a desk and looking out at the security cameras on the night watch.

‘‘It’s not a particularly great photo, but it summed up what we do here, the eternal watch type of thing, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,’’ Whittemore said.

Cunningham recalled Whittemore riding around on his bike taking photos when he was young. Now, he still keeps his camera with him at all times on the job.

‘‘You see what happens behind the curtain, and it’s important for people to know,’’ said Cunningham. ‘‘He’s not afraid to do that, and I support him a thousand percent.’’

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