In the summer of 2020, at the height of the COVID pandemic, Barnstable Police Officer Danielle St. Peter found a woman in her 20s and her baby living in a camp with other homeless people.
The woman didn’t trust her at first.
“But I told her she and her child deserved a place to call home,” said St. Peter, 40. With the officer’s help, the woman and her baby were able to find permanent housing.
On Friday, U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins presented St. Peter and Walpole School Resource Officer Tommy Hart with U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Award for distinguished service in community policing. They were among only 18 officers across the nation to receive the award.
“Officers St. Peter and Hart are exemplary representatives of our law enforcement community, and their selflessness and commitment to serving their communities is what earned them today’s honor,” said U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins.
Barnstable Police Chief Matthew Sonnabend said his department “struck gold” in 2018 when St. Peter joined the Community Impact Unit, which helps people struggling with mental illness, substance use disorder or homelessness.
“It gets cyclical. It gets frustrating,” he said. “But Danielle has that patience to be able to keep working with them until they have some success.”
Hart, 37, joined the Walpole Police Department in 2013. A few years later, he became a school resource officer, a rather unique one who brought his golden retriever, whom the students named “Rebel,” with him virtually every day.
“There’s something about a dog,” he said. “It’s amazing what they can do just by being present.”
Hart recalled one incident in which a high school student damaged the school and ran off. The officer found her a short time later sitting in a front yard a few blocks away.
Hart was concerned that she might hurt herself or someone else. So he asked if she’d mind if he brought Rebel out of his car to meet her.
“As she was patting Rebel, she suddenly began to talk to me,” Hart said. “She was comforted by her.”
Not long afterward, he was able to connect the girl with a counselor.
“It ended up very differently than how it started,” Hart said. “She has a way of calming down people in crisis.”
Since then, other departments’ school resource officers have begun using dogs to diffuse situations that might otherwise turn violent.
“It’s great to be recognized,” Hart said, “but it doesn’t beat a bunch of kids yelling Rebel’s name as we walk by.”
This year, the Justice Department received 185 nominations from 145 law enforcement agencies, recognizing a total of 347 officers, deputies and troopers from 39 states.
“Every day, thousands of people who work in law enforcement forge and maintain strong community ties that are essential for ensuring public safety,” Garland said in a statement. “The recipients of this award represent quintessential examples of such critical efforts. It is an honor to recognize them.”
Courtesy / U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of MassachusettsOfficer Tom Hart of the Walpole Police Department, center, with dog “Rebel,” was awarded the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Community Policing by Rachael Rollins, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. (Courtesy / U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts)