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In Somerville, a good cop dies young

Randy Isaacs was the epitome of a fine community police officer. His sudden death has left many in Somerville shocked and in mourning.

Randy Isaacs served as a Somerville police officer and as a member of the Massachusetts National Guard.Somerville Police Department

A few years ago, some kids at the East Somerville Community School thought it would be funny to make prank calls to 911 from the school cafeteria phone.

After the calls came in, Somerville police officer Randy Isaacs drove over to the school, and if you knew Randy, you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that in short order he had located and identified the 10-year-old perps.

Randy Isaacs waited for those boys’ parents to arrive at the school, and then he sat the boys down and spoke to them not like an overbearing authoritarian figure but like a deeply concerned uncle — not a stretch, when you realized how much he cared about his nieces and nephews.

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He explained that the 911 system was reserved for real emergencies, and that tying it up with prank calls might cause real harm to someone who needs real help.

He didn’t scare them straight as much as he put them on the straight and narrow.

A few days later, one of the boys showed up at the Somerville Police Department with his mom. He handed over an apologetic letter he had written to Isaacs, moved to do so by the way Isaacs had explained the potential ramifications of his actions.

“I called 911 for no reason,” the boy wrote. “It was a really bad idea.”

In the 15 years he spent on the streets of Somerville as a police officer, Randy Isaacs had a profound impact on so many lives, like that 10-year-old boy’s. We’ll never know how many more he would have helped, because on Sunday he suffered what might have been a cardiac event in his cruiser and died. A cause of death has not been established. He was 41 years old.

Randy Isaacs was born in Jamaica and came to the United States as a boy. By the time he was a senior at Somerville High, he knew he wanted to serve his adopted country, to give back, as he put it. He joined the Army. He served as a peacekeeper in Kosovo. Even after joining the Somerville Police Department, he remained a member of the Massachusetts National Guard, deploying to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, rising to the rank of master sergeant.

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Massachusetts National Guard Captain Christopher McCrobie said Isaacs “loved the soldiers and loved being their leader.”

McCrobie remembers that, during training missions, “Whenever I had to go search for his platoon in the woods, I’d always just listen, and follow his laugh until I found them.”

For all Isaac’s good humor and easy laugh, McCrobie said, he was dead serious about training young soldiers, and prepared them well.

Randy Isaacs believed deeply in the concept of service, and was a natural at the community policing model that Somerville prides itself on. He could ride a motorcycle with aplomb. He knew as much about soccer as any living being and endured the recent drop in form by Manchester United with an equanimity that was his signature while in uniform.

Randy Isaacs was always smiling, always laughing. If you weren’t laughing, he reasoned, you weren’t living.

As a police officer, he had a philosophy, that whoever he dealt with, both he and that person should leave the encounter with a smile. That wasn’t always possible when a particular encounter ended with an arrest. But, even in those cases, sometimes there were smiles.

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And Randy Isaacs had a smile. It was, along with an empathy that can’t be taught, the most powerful tool he carried.

Police Chief Charles Femino ordered his officers to wear black mourning bands over their badges for 30 days.

“Randy,” Femino said, “was loved by his fellow officers.”

And by ordinary people who met him every day, in the neighborhoods.

That 10-year-old boy who apologized to Isaacs for making prank 911 calls ended his letter with words that could serve as an epitaph for the citizen soldier and compassionate first responder that was Randy Isaacs: “Thank you for everything you (did) to keep us safe.”


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.