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HADLEY — A veteran member of the Hadley Police Department was recognized for his service last month by the Western Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.

Staff Sergeant Michael Romano was presented with the 26th Annual Richard Werenski Police Officer of the Year Award at their annual Presidential Awards banquet on Dec. 12, 2023.

The award is named for Werenski, who served with the Holyoke Police Department for more than 40 years.

As stated by the association, “It was established to recognize a police officer in Western Massachusetts who has demonstrated within his or her department, the highest standards of professional conduct and diligence to duty, loyalty, honesty and integrity as a police officer.”

Traveling to the awards luncheon as he had on prior occasions, Romano said he was unaware that he himself was to be honored.

“It was very much unexpected,” he said. “Nobody told me I was getting an award; it was pretty special.”

Romano, who has been with department for 10 years, said the award took on special meaning in light of the year he had experienced.

“I had just gone through leukemia treatments, I was diagnosed last year,” he said.

Romano learned in August of 2022 about his illness, after which he went through chemotherapy, radiation treatment and a bone marrow transplant. His illness and treatment kept him off the job for more than a year.

He has returned to work on light duty status and said he is in full remission.
“I’m back to work and things are going well,” Romano said. “It was a challenge for my wife and I, something you don’t expect to hear in your thirties.”

Along the way, Romano said he has been very open and transparent about the process and how the department and community responded with their support and fundraising events.

As the agency’s staff sergeant, Romano is the senior sergeant and as such serves in a variety of capacities and assists other supervisors with their duties.
His responsibilities include oversight of the School Resource Officers, the department’s fleet of vehicles as well as Hadley’s presence on the multi-agency Connecticut River Task Force. He also serves as an instructor in several disciplines including firearms instruction and the use of less lethal force options.

Romano said he expects to remain on a light duty work capacity until sometime in the spring when patrol will again be a portion of his day.

“When I’m back to full duty I’ll also have some patrol responsibility as far as being out on the road and going to supervisor level calls,” he said.

With 20 years in law enforcement, the last 10 in Hadley, Romano also serves as the agency’s Crisis Intervention Team coordinator and is a trained mediator himself.

Hadley Police Chief Michael Mason said he submitted Romano’s name for the award based upon what he has accomplished for the agency and for the town.

“We are so grateful to have him back and we realized what we were missing while he was out.” Mason said.

As part of his nomination to the award selection committee, Mason outlined Romano’s career highlights from his appointment in 2014 to becoming the department’s first school resource officer and creating the job outline for the SRO program and its forging of relationships with administrators, staff and students.

Mason also acknowledged Romano’s accomplishments following his 2018 promotion to sergeant and subsequently staff sergeant as, “our senior most sergeant and one of the most highly respected and trusted officers in our agency.”

Mason, who was the WMCOPA president at the time, said he found special significance in Romano’s nomination and selection.

“It means so much for our organization to have the Western Mass Chiefs Association select him for this award,” Mason said. “Each year our organization gives out several awards and scholarships, but I personally feel that this award is the most prestigious.”

Mason also had a hand in keeping word of the award selection hidden from Romano.

“When I was notified that Mike was selected, I contacted his wife, Kelley, who has been by his side throughout his diagnosis and treatment, and we worked out a plan to keep it a secret from him,” Mason said. “So, in my role [at that time] as president of the Western Mass Chiefs, I was honored to not only be able announce his name, but also see the pure surprise in his eyes when he won.”

Romano said the recognition means a lot, not only for himself but for the agency.

“I’ve worked hard and I’ve put a lot of effort in because I care about where I work and I care about the community,” he said. “It’s easier to do these things and it’s easier to put in that effort and to push yourself when you feel appreciated, and you respect and you like the people you work with and work for.”

Romano said he is proud of how the agency has progressed to where it is today and is supportive and complimentary of Mason and his leadership.
“He’s the best boss I’ve ever had,” he said.

Looking ahead, Romano said recognition and understanding both within the profession and the among community is important, especially within a relationship climate that can often include mistrust, hesitation and fear.

“We’re still human beings and we do a lot, I know my agency does and I certainly try to,” he said. “But we do a lot and we care for people in our community and it would just be really nice to be given a chance by some of the naysayers and maybe have them look at things a little bit more objectively rather than whatever’s being pushed out in the media or social media or what have you.”

He notes what happens and what is experienced on and off the job can be strong indicators of the commonalities between police and the community.

“We’re no different than anybody else,” Romano said.

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