Officer David Kearns will tell you there are three things he can’t stand.

“A liar, a thief and a sneak,” he says. “And there’s no better sneak than me.”

It’s one of the many mantras that anyone who’s worked in the Gorham Police Department in the past 40 years could attribute to Kearns.

“I’ve heard that quote for 22 years,” Lt. Christopher Sanborn said Tuesday.

Such one-liners will be noticeably absent from the department, starting next week. Kearns’ last day of work is Friday.

The date, April 1, will mark exactly 40 years since he was hired – what Kearns likes to call “the greatest April Fools’ joke anyone’s ever played on the town of Gorham.”

“It’s his line, but we don’t disagree with him,” said Chief Ronald Shepard, who was hired a year after Kearns.

Though the longtime colleagues are quick to rib each other, they hand out compliments equally as easily.

“He’s been a dedicated officer since the day he started and will be until the day he leaves,” Shepard said.

Kearns, 64, is the third longtime Gorham police officer to retire in the past six months. Officer Wayne Coffin left in October after 35 years, and Sgt. Robert Mailman, a 29-year veteran, retired in January.

“There’s a big hole in this department,” said Sanborn.

Kearns’ co-workers describe him as a “street cop” who’s intimately familiar with Gorham’s people and places, and is a fixture in town.

“Some people say I was bred for this job,” said Kearns, whose two grandfathers, parents, three uncles and brother worked in law enforcement.

The job has changed in the past four decades. When Kearns was hired in Gorham, he was one of four officers on the force, and the town’s population was about a third of what it is today. Now, the town of about 15,000 people is policed by a 23-person department.

Still, the gist is the same, Kearns said.

“People call; we go,” he said. “No matter what it is.”

Because the Police Department is “the only thing that’s open 24-7 in this town,” Kearns said, residents rely on officers for all kinds of problems –- a skunk in the basement, keys locked in a car, a mental health crisis.

Though much of the work requires officers only to lend a hand – or an ear – Kearns has been involved in plenty of harrowing incidents.

He recalls spending four days searching for a former fellow officer who was missing. The man and his son were found shot dead in the woods.

Kearns remembers watching as a patient who had escaped from a psychiatric hospital stabbed himself to death. The experience forced him to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

He was shot at while responding to a report of domestic violence.

“No matter who you are, in this business you’re not invincible,” he said.

There were rewarding moments, too. Kearns recalls going to a craft fair in Windham, where a woman introduced him to her teenage daughter.

“This is the man that saved your life,” he said the mother told her. About 15 years earlier, Kearns had given CPR to the girl, then a baby, because she had stopped breathing.

Good or bad, Kearns said, police officers never know what will happen each day they go to work. That constant stress, he said, is something he’s happy to leave behind.

“The biggest thing I’m going to miss is this place and these people,” he said.

And though they’ll miss him, too, they said it will be hard not to think about him.

Among Kearns’ legacies is the rule of the “golden triangle.” That’s the name he gave to the town’s three main business areas – Gorham village, Little Falls village and lower Main Street.

“You’ve always got to check the golden triangle,” Shepard said, imitating Kearns.

“That one will stay here,” Sanborn said.

 

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: [email protected]