“From the earliest time I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a policeman,” says Guilford Police Deputy Chief John “Jack” Dunn. “It’s something I love to do. It’s like when you hear an athlete saying, ‘I’m living the dream.’ I am living the dream.”
On Dec. 5, the 26-year veteran of Guilford Police Department (GPD) will be realizing another dream, as he begins his first day as chief of police for the town of Hull, Massachusetts. As Jack takes his leave from GPD, he brings to Hull decades of experience, service, and leadership that have made him a valuable asset to this town.
The East Haven native and Branford resident of 26 years was invited to join GPD as a patrol officer in 1990. Jack had just completed serving four years as a military policeman in the United States Air Force when he undertook the regional testing for municipal policing.
“Guilford was the first town to offer me a job, and I’ve stayed ever since. I’ve been very lucky here with my career. I’ve done every assignment you can do here command-wise, except the chief’s position, and it’s been great,” says Jack. “So leaving is going to be bittersweet. It’s just like family here—we’re here more than we are with our families. Some of these people I’ve known for over half my life, including the chief. He and I were partners in the [detective] bureau together. But I’m also looking forward to the opportunity and the excitement of becoming a chief in another Department.”
Guilford Police Chief Jeffrey Hutchinson says the entire department is wishing the best for Jack and his family. On a personal note, Hutchinson adds he’s losing a valuable partner and a good friend.
“Over more than 26 years, we have grown up together here at the Guilford Police Department. I have worked with Jack my entire career; in patrol, as partners in the detective unit, being promoted to sergeant at the same time, and working closely during our times in administrative positions,” Hutchinson says. “Jack is leaving with an incredible amount of experience and institutional knowledge. His professional and life experiences make him a great candidate for chief of the Hull Police Department.”
Beyond that, “Jack is not only well respected by all of his colleagues both here and within other agencies, but is also very well liked,” says the chief. “He is simply a nice person, with a great deal of concern for others.”
‘Out to Help’
For Jack, one of the best parts of being a police officer is helping others.
“Helping people makes me feel good,” says Jack. “A lot of times, people think we’re out there just to arrest people, but we’re not. We’re out there to help them. We’re problem solvers; we’re there to help them or to refer them to someone who can help.”
Jack says GPD has a particularly strong ethos of assistance, including reaching out to work with professionals in municipal programs such as Guilford Youth & Family Services and the Shoreline Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Task Force.
“Guilford’s really good in that we’re able to refer a lot of families and individuals for help. I don’t think there are many agencies that do as much as we do here,” says Jack.
He adds this community has always shown its appreciation for the force.
“They know we’re making the community safe, so people here are very friendly to us,” says Jack. “We have officers come here from other departments, and the first thing they notice is people here are actually waving to us. They like the police officers, and we like the community. When the [Dallas police officer shooting deaths] were happening a few months ago, we had an unbelievable amount of people here showing us support. And if you don’t have community support, then you don’t have a police department.”
Jack entered GPD with an associate’s degree and went on to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees by attending University of New Haven for a number of years during his off-hours from work. Jack’s also received a great deal of support and mentorship within the department and has tried to pay it forward to newer members.
“A lot of people for who I was their training officer or supervisor now have moved up in the ranks, which is nice to see, especially when its people you kind of took under your wing...It’s nice to see them have the same kind of progression,” he says.
Looking back over his GPD career, several cases also stand out, including what came to be known as the Guilford Murders, four deaths caused by the same hand, resident Jonathan Mills. Mills was caught by police shortly after stabbing his aunt and two of her children to death in December 2000. He was subsequently tied to the strangulation death of 20 year-old Mindy Leigh, whose body was found at the Guilford Fairgrounds two months earlier.
“The homicides in town hit everybody pretty hard. It was right after Christmas when Jon Mills killed his aunt and two cousins. I was the Tactical Team Commander that day, trying to locate him. Then that night, I was on the surveillance team that actually did find him, and called in more units to help effect the arrest,” says Jack. “We were all involved in that, the whole department came in for a 26- to 28-hour period. It made a lot people realize those kind of horrible things can happen, even in a small town.”
Jack was also a key member of the department’s detective unit, serving as a detective for three years and unit commander for 10 years.
“You really got to learn a lot as an investigator, handling the more serious crimes in town. You learned a lot about the kind of dark side of the shoreline,” says Jack.
Among many cases, Jack especially enjoyed GPD’s involvement in helping bring the Yugoslavian-Albanian-Croatian-Serbian (YACS) gang to justice.
“It was a bank burglary case I enjoyed working because it involved every department from Stonington all the way down to Greenwich,” Jack recalls. “During the Serbian Wars, the YACS had all come here as refugees to New York and New Jersey. They started their own organized crime gang and they would burglarize banks on holiday weekends.”
After first tripping bank alarms, then watching for police to arrive and clear the building, the YACS would then go in and burglarize ATMS filled with money for the long weekend.
“They had done it for several weeks at a number of banks, and Guilford had been one of the victims,” says Jack. “So the FBI organized a sting operation where they paired up detectives all along the shoreline. We started setting up on different banks, and then it happened—they broke into a bank in Branford, and we were able to catch them all. So that was a big case I enjoyed working on. Nobody got hurt, and everybody was working with each other.”
Setting the Standard
Jack has also enjoyed helping GPD gain its law enforcement agency accreditation status, which the department began earning on the state level in 2003 and now holds on the national level. The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) recognition puts GPD among the gold standard for policing. Departments voluntarily submit to CALEA peer reviews, which rigorously delve into policies, philosophies and practices.
“Since 2003, when [GPD] first became accredited, and 2005 when we continued to move through it, I’ve been heavily involved; both as the assistant to the current chief and also as the accreditation manager for little bit. I think it’s important, because it shows a good level of policies and standards and oversight with an agency,” says Jack, adding he’d like to help Hull Police Department earn CALEA accreditation.
As chief of Hull Police, Jack will oversee the department’s regular ranks of 30 sworn officers, which swells to 60 in the summer. By way of comparison, Guilford has 37 sworn police officers. Hull is also similar to Guilford in that it’s a shoreline town. Located just south of Boston, Hull is situated on a peninsula on the Atlantic.
“It’s right on the ocean and has a population of about 12,000 people for two square miles, but in the summer it goes up to about 35,000 plus the beach,” says Jack. “There’s a massive beach up there that a lot of tourists come to every year. They double the size of the force in the summer because there are so many people in town.”
Jack was selected for Hull’s chief post from a pool of 54 applicants. The review process began in May and ended with a congratulatory call in mid-October. He’ll wrap up his work with GPD by Nov. 16 and then plans to move north to Hull with his wife, Sinead.
“There are still some people who don’t know I’m leaving, especially in Branford,” says Jack. “We’ve been living there since 1990 and we both love the town. My wife knows more people in Branford than I do, because she was a manager at Lenny’s Restaurant for 25 years, and now she’s been the manager of Dockside [Seafood & Grille] for five years. So she’s made a lot of connections with people in Branford, and she also loves Guilford. It’s going to be hard for us to leave.”
The Dunns raised their three children in Branford (now 27, 23 and 19) and the Dunn’s oldest daughter now lives little over 20 miles away in another Massachusetts town.
“We’re looking forward to moving up there,” says Jack. “It’s a challenge we’re all looking forward to, and hoping for the best.”