FITCHBURG -- When retiring Fitchburg State University Police Chief James Hamel joined the force in 1974, the female-to-male student ratio was 5-1, there were nights of toilet-papering mischief and panty raids, and the Hammond Campus Center had yet to be built.
In the 40 years since then, Hamel, 61, has watched the city and the university change immensely. The campus has grown considerably in the past 10 years especially, as FSU purchased properties along the North Street corridor and gained the Wallace Civic Center, and the relationship between FSU and the city has blossomed.
Monday was Hamel's last day on the job, one that has been marked by collaboration and a focus on students.
"The students truly are our customers," he said.
"They're here to get an education, they're not here to get a criminal record."
Hamel said he tells his officers to view the students they encounter as brothers or sisters, daughters or sons. He said it helps them realize they are "educators outside of the classroom."
"So many students have attended Fitchburg State and become such remarkable contributors to society after they've left here, and the university I really believe takes a portion of that credit," he said. "And hopefully, if they trip up during that journey, from the time they start here until the end, we've been there to kind of help them along."
Hamel said he always knew he would be a police officer. His father, Wilfred Hamel, served as police chief in Townsend, as did his maternal grandfather, Ira Carleton. Many other family members have been and still are police officers in a number of departments throughout the region.
Before Hamel came to FSU, and for many years simultaneously, he worked as an officer in Townsend and then in Ashby. He counts among his mentors former police chiefs he's worked under in those towns, including Erving Marshall Sr. and Bill May in Townsend and Bob Wilhauck in Ashby.
The Townsend resident didn't give up his post there until he ran for, and was elected, to the Board of Selectmen in 1996. Hamel served a single three-year term on the board, saying term limits are important to him.
At the University Police Department, he worked his way up the ranks, and was appointed as chief in 2005.
For Hamel, one of the most rewarding things about working at FSU has been to see, year after year, students who have faced great adversities walk across the stage at graduation.
"Many times, police departments, we don't very often get to share in the good times. We're called when something's wrong," he said. "Here, we're fortunate that we're called when something's wrong, but we're also there when things are good, and that kind of creates a balance."
On the other hand, Hamel said some of the most challenging events in his years have been student tragedies -- two students murdered off campus in domestic-violence situations, a student who didn't survive a heart transplant, and another who committed suicide.
FSU President Robert Antonucci, who hired Hamel as chief, called him dedicated and loyal, and said he truly understands what it means to be a chief on a university campus.
"He always goes the extra mile to make sure that our students are safe, that we're protected, and if they get in trouble, the goal is to really help them get out of it in the least possible way, so that they learn from their experience rather than being punished," he said.