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Retiring officer honed own style; Lt. Porier was `unconventional'.

Byline: Danielle M. Williamson

GARDNER - Lt. Gerald J. Poirier's colleagues will tell you he hasn't been the most conventional cop.

Lt. Poirier's gotten confessions simply by talking so much that the criminal's only way of getting him to shut up is to fess up. He's investigated the theft of thousands of dollars worth of stolen shrimp with the intensity that typically accompanies a bigger case. He doesn't work coveted police details; he regularly bounces theories off his lunch buddies downtown at the Paramount Cafe; and he'll share his concepts about preventing crime with anyone who'll listen.

"His police work was more unconventional than most," said Detective William Crockett. "Because of that, he's been able to solve more crimes than anyone else. He'll talk about birds and fishing, and before you know it, he'll have a confession. He has incredible tenacity."

Lt. Poirier, 56, will retire tomorrow, after 35 years on the job and three years of telling his colleagues, "This is the year." Two promotions ride on his departure and his papers are in, so there's no turning back now. But a playful e-mail he sent last week to the entire department, titled "Change of plans," had some officers holding their breath.

Leading into the e-mail with complaints about the poor economy and living on a fixed income, Lt. Poirier took his time getting to the punch line.

"I ended with how I'd changed my mind, and would be going to the White Mountains instead of the Green Mountains," he said, chuckling. "It got everyone riled up."

A graduate of Gardner High and Mount Wachusett Community College, Lt. Poirier said he will likely swing by the station now and then, "probably getting in everyone's way." He acknowledges it will be difficult to leave the department to which he dedicated his life's work.

"I'll be living in Gardner the rest of my life, and can take comfort knowing the department is taking good care of the city. I'm very impressed with this new generation of police officers."

Lt. Poirier joined the force in 1973, the decade in which the federal government was pushing for higher standards in light of police corruption in New York. In Gardner, there were barrooms at every corner; prostitution was rampant. With the drinking age at 18, there were more fatal drunken-driving crashes than Lt. Poirier cares to remember.

"There were terrible domestic battles and murder scenes, and back then; there was no such thing as counseling for police officers," he said. "You didn't even talk about it."

When reflecting on his career, Lt. Poirier focuses heavily on his time in the detective bureau, which he joined in 2000, five years after he was promoted to lieutenant from sergeant, a rank he achieved in 1988.

"He really found a home in the detective bureau," Chief Neil C. Erickson said. "His methods aren't like anyone else's. He's opened up a lot of eyes and has gotten people to look at the total picture."

Lt. Poirier estimates that at least 90 percent of the burglaries and home invasions he's investigated have been fueled by drug addiction, and attaches a similarly close connection to virtually every other type of crime.

"Most all of your crimes are the result of some sort of addiction," he said. "If it isn't drugs or gambling, it's sexual."

Lt. Poirier has spoken extensively about targeting the sources that help (often unwittingly) fund addictions. Cut off the funding sources, he believes, and the crime rate will diminish. This means monitoring pawn shops that buy stolen goods, no questions asked, and advocating for better security at businesses so they're not so easy to rob.

Early in his career as a detective, he got wrapped up in a case about mass quantities of shrimp being stolen from Stop & Shop.

It turned out the thieves were heroin addicts who were selling the seafood to a market in Worcester, and using the profit to buy more drugs.

Lt. Poirier speaks proudly about the successes of the North Worcester County Drug Task Force, of which he is commander.

"He has helped further our communication with other departments, which is important," Chief Erickson said. "And he's stayed focused on the team approach."

Lt. Poirier has spoken on National Public Radio about ways for retail chains to protect themselves from theft, and touts "crime prevention through environmental design," which may include digital video surveillance equipment, good store visibility and employee training.

"We make it too easy for people," he said. "If you have an addict living in your house, are you going to leave prescription drugs lying on the table? Well, when you put a teenager behind a counter late at night and have him multi-tasking, you're asking for trouble. And don't take a note from a person who's wearing a disguise!"

Last year, he showed his unconventional colors by complaining to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration after yet another robbery at a Shell gas station.

Since then, Lt. Poirier noted, the store has improved its security and there have been no major incidents.

"Sure, I'll go catch the (robbers), but how many times am I going to solve a robbery at the Shell station?" he said. "Shell may lose a couple hundred bucks, but what does it cost us in resources, between the police work, prosecutors and an appointed defense attorney? It could be a few hundred thousand for one case."

Lt. Poirier said he's gotten the most satisfaction from working on crimes in which no one got hurt, and "catching well-to-do people with no particular problems other than greed."

He has a binder filled with hundreds of pages from one his favorite cases in 2003, when he arrested a Gardner man who faked a break-in to his home, stealing money he had helped collect for a Worcester firefighters charity.

Lt. Poirier said it has been fun playing mind games with suspects he eventually ties to the crime, noting that most criminals, like the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," end up being consumed by their guilt.

He's often handed off grislier cases - sexual assaults, heinous domestic crimes - to other detectives, but he has certainly seen his share.

"This job can eat you up alive," he said. "One thing police officers have to understand, when they think all of society is going to the dogs: It's only about 5 percent of the population that causes 100 percent of the problems."

The lieutenant said he hasn't become jaded or mistrustful of people from his years on the job, and noted he's even gone to lunch with people he's arrested "to pick their brains."

He said he's learned to be a better listener - but noted that not listening has often proved helpful.

"I've been in the interrogation room with suspects and had them say, `What can I do to stop you from talking. It's driving me crazy!' I've said, `Well, confess.' And they do."

NAME: GARDNER POLICE DEPARTMENT

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Lt. Gerald J. Poirier's career has been marked by innovative techniques pursued to solve crime.

PHOTOG: T&G Staff/RICK CINCLAIR
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 14, 2008
Words:1181
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