Nightmare on Elm Street


One of the many things I love about Ipswich is that we’re safe here. Safe enough that my neighbor, who is a Lawrence cop, makes fun of how safe Ipswich is. Ipswich is so safe that it’s becoming a kind of haven for law enforcement officials. Where does the chief of police for the city of Gloucester live? In Ipswich. If you spend all day dealing with crime and criminals, the last thing you want when you go home at the end of the day is to deal with more crime and more criminals. So you move to Ipswich.

I think we’re all pretty safe here in Ipswich, but I happen to be extra-safe. From my backyard I could throw a rock and hit not only the Lawrence cop, but also a Lynnfield firefighter, a Salem firefighter, and a Massachusetts state trooper. Of course I would not throw said rock, because it’s so embarrassing to be arrested by your own neighbor.

“This your rock, buddy?”

“Kevin! It was a joke!”

“You nailed my chihuahua. Assault and battery.”

“Kevin! It’s me! Your pal from two doors down!”

“Hands behind your back, please. I’m gonna hafta cuff ya.”

When my wife and I had the opportunity to move, to live anywhere we wanted in the whole wide world, to relocate permanently and spend the rest of our lives somewhere, we chose Ipswich. We’d had our fill of the big city, the master-planned community, the Disneyesque suburbs. We longed for small-town America. I’ve lived in Chicago (three times as deadly as New York City). I’ve lived in Phoenix (17th most dangerous metro area in the country, according to the annual Morgan Quitno study). I’ve lived in Akron, Ohio. (They have almost twice the violent crime rate of the national average, says — fewer than 200,000 people, but more than 20 murders a year. Shrinking tax base? Hey! Cut down on your murders! You’ll have more taxpayers left!)

Ipswich was perfect. The ocean, the history, the clams. Good schools for our brilliant kid, good vibe overall. And a low crime rate — officially safer than 63% of all U.S. cities. Sure, there’s the occasional crazy who sticks up the convenience store, but these aren’t our people. These people come in from neighboring towns (which shall remain nameless), and can easily be barred if we impose the simple electric-fence plan I’ve recommended to the Town Manager.

Chief Paul Nikas

Chief Paul Nikas

To find out how Ipswich got to be so safe, I made a date with Chief Paul Nikas. He took me on a tour of the Elm Street police station — a building most locals know only from the outside. Inside this aging structure, the Chief and his minions have created an impressive, up-to-date operation. There’s a super-fast digital fingerprint-matching machine. A big, intimidating multi-screen security station and 911 center.

Command center, Ipswich police station on Elm St.

Command center, Ipswich police station on Elm St.

Of course, there are also the homey touches you’d expect in a small-town police station:

Our cops can bowl!

Our cops can bowl!

The police team bowling trophy. The popcorn machine. Old records kept in beer boxes. (If you broke the law here in 1966, you’re in the Pabst Blue Ribbon crate. Schlitz is ’69.)

Ipswich police records. Don't drink and file

Ipswich police records. Don’t drink and file

But the secret weapon — clearly the key reason Ipswich is so safe — is that the jail cells are pink. Not pinkish. Not something that sort of reminds you of pink. These walls are absolutely, totally pink. It’s the same princess pink that your elementary-school daughter wants in her bedroom.

When a hardened criminal gets locked up in one of these cells, he recoils in horror at the cuteness of it. He shivers and squeezes his eyes closed. He vows to himself to go straight. Or at least, next time, to rob a store in Rowley instead.

I’m tellin’ ya, Chief Nikas is a crime-fighting genius.

Doug Brendel stays mostly holed up in his bunker on outer Linebrook Road. He can be reached via


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