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After 30 years with the Tilton PD, Captain Wellington retires

Tilton Police Captain Owen Wellington will retire June 25 after 30 years. Meghan Siegler. (click for larger version)
June 23, 2010
TILTON — When Owen Wellington was handed his diploma from Winnisquam Regional High School on June 13, 1980, he didn't take off his gown and put on party clothes like many of his peers. Instead, he suited up in his police uniform and headed to the riot underway at the Weirs, a product of Motorcycle Weekend.

"Back then, to me, (the riot) was exciting," Wellington said. "It was exciting and very scary."

Thirty years later, Captain Wellington has been through a couple more riots, car chases and more arrests than he can remember. At 48, he is retiring from the police force, a career he never expected to have.

Wellington technically graduated from high school early, in January of 1980, knowing only that he didn't like school and planned to spend more time working at the Grand Union grocery store in Franklin. But then his father found an ad seeking a part-time police officer in Northfield, and, after applying and passing a written test, Wellington joined the department.

"I got sworn in when I was 18," he said.

Early that summer he moved to the Tilton Police Department, where he was promised a full-time patrol officer position at the end of the summer and a trip to the Police Academy shortly thereafter. For the most part, it was "on-the-job training back then," Wellington said.

With the exception of the short stint in Northfield, Wellington has been with the Tilton from the beginning. He has moved up through the ranks, with his first promotion to senior patrolman in 1991, then corporal in 1997, sergeant in 2002 and, finally, captain in 2004. He applied for the chief position twice, most recently when Kent Chapman retired in 2007, and said he was somewhat disappointed but definitely not devastated.

"I had applied because it was the next logical step here in Tilton," he said. "If you want rank, you can chase it and go to other departments. You can be a chief in a one-horse town. But I'd made a home in Tilton."

Wellington still remembers his first arrest, when he was working for Northfield. He was riding with Scott Hilliard, who is now sheriff of Merrimack County but at the time was a part-time officer like Wellington. Wellington was the officer on duty, and Hilliard was riding with him; back then, part-timers often volunteered their time to get more experience. The arrest was for a DWI and was the first of many to come.

One of his more memorable experiences as an officer was a 40-mile car chase that started with a routine attempt to pull over a driver for speeding, only to have that driver turn his car around and ram Wellington's cruiser head on. Wellington chased him through Belmont, Northfield, Canterbury and back into Belmont before the drunk driver's vehicle died going up Shute Hill. By the end, the driver had crashed into at least three other cruisers.

"You do what you have to do, then think about it after," Wellington said.

In more recent years, Wellington has spent more time behind his desk than on patrol, working the administrative side of the department.

"I deal with the aftermath (of arrests)," he said.

As corporal, Wellington shared prosecution duties with the sergeant; when he was promoted to sergeant in 2002, he became the town's first full-time prosecutor, which he looks back on as one of his best times with the department.

"It really rounds you out," he said. "You know what the officer did and why, and now you're presenting it in court. You see the outcome of arrests and how it affects people."

Wellington found he had more discretion as a prosecutor and had the potential to help people more on a case by case basis. A person with a substance abuse problem and no previous arrests might be steered toward a program that could help correct the problem rather than just punish the behavior. Wellington said the goal is to help people become better members of society.

Of everything he's leaving behind, Wellington said it's the day-to-day interactions with "the guys" he'll miss the most. He said he spends more time with them than his family, though that's about to change despite some resistance from his youngest daughter Hannah, who just graduated from eighth grade.

"She said 'Dad, I'm disappointed in you – you're supposed to be a captain. You're too young to retire,'" Wellington said. Wellington's son Nolen just graduated from Winnisquam Regional High School, and his other daughter Tracee is heading into her senior year there.

Wellington agreed with his daughter that he's too young to retire permanently, but he said late 40s and early 50s is a fairly typical age for someone to retire after so long in the police force.

"My plan is to take the summer off, try to get acclimated to civilian life," he said. "Then when I'm bored to death I'll go back to work."

Wellington said he's not sure what the future holds for him in terms of his next career, but one possibility is carpentry, which he dabbled in and enjoyed back in the '80s.

Wellington also plans to stay on Tilton's Life Safety Building Committee, which he has served on since it was created in 2009.

"I understand both sides of it," he said, referring to the police department's needs and taxpayers' cost concerns. "I'm passionate about the town."

Wellington lives in Northfield with his children and wife Eilene.

His last day is June 25.

"It's been quite a ride," Wellington said.

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