They came from as far away as California to gather in a packed room on a Friday evening and watch William Baker, an officer with a long and adventurous career in law enforcement, be sworn in as Westbrook’s new police chief.

“Bill is not only the consummate professional, but he’s also a personality,” said John Welter, chief of police for the Anaheim, Calif., police department. Baker had flown all the way out to Anaheim to see Welter sworn in as chief three and a half years ago, and so Welter did the same this year in return.

Baker was sworn in to his new role by Westbrook City Clerk Barbara Hawkes on Friday evening at the public safety building surrounded by friends, former colleagues, family and his new colleagues in the Westbrook public safety department and city hall. He started his first day on Monday at 6 a.m., backing up one of his officers for a traffic stop well before 8.

“He just can’t get police work out of his blood,” Welter said after the ceremony. “He’s a cop’s cop, but also a great administrator.”

Welter came to the ceremony for Baker in uniform, and two officers from Westborough and Shrewsbury, Mass., came in their dress blues. Others came from Laconia, N.H., Peaks Island and Biddeford, where Baker was recently working as a part-time patrol officer.

Baker first became a patrol officer at the age of 18, hired by former Police Chief King Carter in Cumberland in 1974 (Carter was in the hospital Friday, and his grandson went to the ceremony in his stead). Baker was originally from Southborough, Mass., but police officers had to be 21 in order to sign on. So he headed to the police academy in Maine, where he only had to be 18 (it has since changed to 21, in 1994). Baker’s family had spent a lot of time on Peaks Island, so Maine wasn’t a foreign state to him.

In an interview Monday, Baker said the police in his hometown had been active in the youth community, and he would often chat with officers before school. His cousin was also an officer, and he saw the police as the “go-to people when people were in crisis. It was that opportunity to help people in need that drew him to the profession.

“The beauty of this is every day since that, I’ve loved every minute of it,” Baker said.

While employed as a patrol officer in Cumberland, Baker began undergraduate night courses, ultimately getting a degree in human services. He then did a four-year program at the New England School of Law to earn his law degree.

Baker worked his way up over the years, returning to Massachusetts and ultimately becoming a chief of police. From chief he became the director of public safety for Massachusetts, which was his first step toward working for the federal government, training police around the world.

Baker became involved with the FBI’s National Academy Associates, and from contacts made there was chosen by former FBI Director Louis Freeh as one of just a handful – along with Welter – to join the U.S. Department of Justice’s International Police Training program. He and Welter went to Russia in 1996 (Baker described Welter as “an able companion on the mean streets of Moscow at 2 in the morning”), and they were the first non-bureau representatives working with the police forces there.

“It was a very interesting, very rewarding trip,” said Baker, hardly conveying the depth of experience he had, though he’d explain more moments later.

One night a member of the Russian mafia broke into his hotel room in St. Petersburg. “He got the worst of it,” Baker said.

The hotel’s staff and own group of organized criminals then promised that the situation would be taken care of, and the problem removed.

But more importantly, Baker was able to use the incident as a lesson in his training program. The response from the hotel was not the best way to enforce the law.

“It sparked a lot of conversation,” said Baker, who has worked in both St. Petersburg and Moscow with Russian law enforcement on community policing, police policy and leadership.

“They were still training officers the same way as the communist system,” Baker said. The challenge was to get them to move toward a more progressive program.

Baker worked in a number of countries in Eurasia, Africa and Latin America, where police forces were often corrupt, politically neutralized or simply impotent in their communities.

In Guatemala City, Guatemala, Baker was working with a local officer when a woman came up to them to say her sister had been kidnapped and was being raped in a nearby house. Baker said he could hear the screaming, but the officer he was with told him it was after dark and the police do nothing after dark.

“Buddy,” Baker said to him, “I can’t drive away from this.”

Baker set up a scheme where he posed as an American priest and got the rapist to open the door, and then the local officers took the man into custody.

Baker said the training programs met with varying degrees of success. In El Salvador it was a huge success, he said, and murders and rapes were cut in half. But in Haiti, “we spent a whole year there, and poured millions of dollars into Haiti, and they are right back where they started.”

But there is no doubt the program was a successful experience for Baker, 52, who lives in Scarborough. Since he left the justice department, Baker has been working with his officers in local police departments on international exchange programs, which he expects to look at for Westbrook, too.

Baker has joined Westbrook not only from Biddeford, but from his full-time job as an international law enforcement consultant at the Emergence Group. Baker said he expects that he’ll do a couple of projects a year on the international scope if he can, but his focus will be on running the Westbrook Police Department, and building the community locally, just as he has done around the world.

“I don’t care what country we were in, or what situation we were in, he made friends,” said Welter.

William Baker gets sworn in as Westbrook’s new police chief by City Clerk Barbara Hawkes on Friday. Baker is bring 34 years of local and international law enforcement experience to the community.William Baker, center, chats at the Westrbook public safety building after being sworn in as the new police chief with John Clark, left, chief deputy of the U.S. Marshall’s office in Portland, and John Welter, chief of police for the Anaheim, Calif., police department. Baker assumed his duties on Monday.


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