More than just drunk students

by Andrew Allport | 5/14/99 5:00am

Sitting in his corner office behind a desk covered with papers, potted plants and pictures of his family, it is hard to imagine Hanover Chief of Police Nick Giaccone engaged in high-speed car chases or pursuing suspects through the woods on foot.

His 27 years on the force have worn and mellowed the man who grew up in New Jersey with a dislike of the police, and he speaks with a voice accustomed to only using as many words as necessary.

"It's the same issues, different faces," was the way he described the routine of dealing with Dartmouth students' run-ins with alcohol, drugs and occasional assault.

The large concentration of young people, most of whom are out on their own for the first time, leads to a lot of "experimenting," said Giaccone, who has seen his own two children through college with their own incidents. Much like a common-sense parent, he concedes that he and the other members of the force "can't stop it all," but that they have to provide consequences when a student steps over the line.

But don't mistake the Hanover Police as surrogate parents, as Giaccone said many students do - "the consequences are real," he said, from minor drug possession or underage drinking to serious crimes more typical of a place like New York City.

Hanover? The same problems as Gotham? Certainly hardly any students would see the resemblance, but the police chief has seen a lot since he joined the force, and knows that cops' lives are similar no matter where their beats are located.

"New York City cops do a lot of sitting around, too," Giaccone said, adding Hanover Police deals with many of the same crimes as they do.

"Except the murders," he said.

Of course, there are exceptions: less than 15 years ago, Giaccone and the rest of the police found themselves with a double axe-murder on their hands, a case that eventually ended up in the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Though it was probably the department's most glamorous case, Giaccone has dealt with many lesser but still exciting and sometimes dangerous cases.

Before he was promoted to chief in 1994, and "there were a few more bars in Hanover," Giaccone recalled being involved in a car chase. As Giaccone walked back to his cruiser at a routine traffic stop, the driver took off toward the Ledyard Bridge.

Giaccone, himself a private enthusiast of legal speed on his Harley-Davidson, quickly got back into his car and started pursuing the driver.

As they crossed over the Connecticut River into Vermont, the escaping driver slowed down and appeared to be stopping. But as soon as Giaccone pulled alongside him, the driver tried to run him off the road into the woods.

In another big case, when Giaccone was still a detective, an informant told him about a burglary that was about to take place. Giaccone arrived at the house to watch five miscreants making off with a vanload of stolen items, which the police recovered.

But it isn't always brilliant detective work that makes or breaks a case for Giaccone - "90 percent of it is almost B.S. luck," he said.

And it isn't always the "big" cases that are the most difficult for Giaccone - in fact, he said, the cases that are the hardest to handle usually involve sexual assault or students who "naturally gravitate towards a high-power attorney." Usually, though, suspects are cooperative - some even have "arrests by appointment."

Giaccone, who lives in Grantham, described the town of Hanover as "a place of victims" - victims of theft, fraud and burglary, he said, since the town's concentration of wealth in an otherwise lower-class area attracts thieves. Hanover residents also have a sense of security that comes with living in a small town, and they frequently fail to take necessary safety measures.

And then, of course there is a small College located on the hill in Hanover, whose students frequently come into contact with Giaccone's force - often more on this weekend than any other.

"We're a lid on a pressure-cooker," Giaccone said. "Sometimes kids just lose it."

But when they do, the Hanover Police Department and Chief Nick Giaccone are there.