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Big city or Boxford, says new chief, he’s ‘trying to help’

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Michael J. Murphy, who spent 25 years with the Revere Police Department, is excited to be Boxford’s new police chief.

He has been a law enforcement leader in a busy, blue-collar city. Now Michael J. Murphy is experiencing what it is like to bring those skills to a decidedly different environment.

Murphy, until recently a Revere police captain and the department’s executive officer, began work a few weeks ago as Boxford’s new police chief. Selectmen in the quiet, rural town tapped Murphy from among nearly 100 applicants to succeed retired longtime chief Gordon Russell.

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“I’m very pleased,’’ said Murphy, who spent 25 years with the Revere Police Department, the last 10 as the number two in command.

The contrast between the community he now serves and the one he just left could not be greater.

Boxford is a town of 7,965, according to the 2010 US Census, and 23.8 square miles. Revere has 51,755 residents in just under 6 square miles.

“You don’t have the population cluster here. The layout of the town differs dramatically from Revere,’’ Murphy said. “Revere is thickly settled. This may be one of the most sparsely settled towns in the state. There is a lot of land here.’’

In Boxford, Murphy oversees a department with 12 full-time and 10 part-time officers, compared with the 80 to 90 full-time officers he helped oversee during his 10 years as Revere’s executive officer.

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But Murphy, 58, said he is comfortable with the transition, noting that for all the differences, there are also similarities between city and small-town police work.

“Many people viewed it that it would be a substantial cultural change,’’ Murphy, who will earn a $119,000 salary, said of his new position. “But I was working with police professionals in Revere, and I’m working with police professionals here in this community.’’

“There is not a tremendous amount of street-level crime here in Boxford, so the Police Department has a somewhat different relationship with the population. But it’s really about trying to help people who encounter problems, whatever the problem may be.’’

And Murphy said he is not concerned that after his years in the city, he will find public safety issues in a small town to be dull.

“I expect it to be interesting,’’ he said, “because it’s different and different is always interesting.’’

Peter C. Perkins, chairman of the Board of Selectmen and a retired Boxford fire chief, said he is confident Murphy will find the job stimulating.

“The way I look at it is it’s a whole new set of challenges for him. . . . It’s a lot different here,’’ he said.

Even though the town doesn’t experience many of the issues common to urban places, said Perkins, there is plenty for a Boxford police chief to do, from managing his crew of uniformed officers to addressing such issues as house breaks, traffic control, and teen drinking. He said he is confident Murphy is up to the challenge.

“I’m enthused because of his attitude and his outlook on Boxford,’’ Perkins said, noting that he is pleased that the new chief has already been meeting many people in town. “That’s what I wanted to see, a hands-on type of person, someone who is there at night working with his officers.’’

Murphy, for his part, said he appreciates the reception he has received from the town.

“The people have been nothing but welcoming here,’’ he said.

Murphy said he applied for the Boxford position because “I just thought it was time for a change. I had been doing the job I had in Revere for 10 years continuously, and for anyone that is a long time. . . . No matter what you are doing, over time you can get a little stale.’’

His appointment came on a 3-2 vote, with three selectmen, including Perkins, favoring Murphy and two voting for the other remaining finalist.

“I felt he was a straight arrow,’’ Perkins said of his decision to vote for Murphy. “He says it as it is. And . . . he is a very fair guy.’’

A longtime resident of Saugus, Murphy and his wife, Debra, a school teacher in Revere, have two adult children and five grandchildren.

Murphy grew up in Revere, graduating from Revere High School. A Vietnam-era veteran, he served in the Navy from 1970-74. Following the service, he worked as a patrol officer in Willimantic, Conn. from 1975-79.

Returning to Revere, Murphy worked as a machine operator for General Electric in Lynn and Everett from 1979-86. During those years, he applied to join the Revere Police Department, and in 1986 he was hired as a patrol officer.

Murphy gained promotions to sergeant in 1991, lieutenant in 1994, and captain in 2001. In January 2002 he was named executive officer, a position that included overseeing the patrol department, handling personnel, and serving as public information officer.

For about his last 15 years with the department, he also served as investigator for the city’s Licensing Commission.

During his years with the department, Murphy earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Curry College.

“It was a very interesting 25-year career,’’ he said of his years in Revere, which also included serving as a detective for a year. “It was certainly, in a city the size of Revere, an opportunity to see and do a lot of things, and I’m glad to have had that opportunity.’’

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