MONMOUTH – Police Chief Kevin Conger is stepping down to take over as director of public safety at the University of Southern Maine. His last day in Monmouth will be Jan. 20.

“It was a tough decision,” Conger said. “But I think, for a number of reasons, it was a good decision for me. It’s really an opportunity that probably will not come along again in my professional lifetime.”

Conger took charge of the Monmouth Police Department in April. His approach to law enforcement has earned high praise from selectmen and Town Manager Curtis Lunt, who described him as level-headed, humble and sensible.

“I’m happy for him, but disappointed for us,” Lunt said. “We certainly got to like the guy a lot. We were very pleased with him and wish he could have stayed longer.”

Conger, who served with the Maine State Police for 23 years before retiring as a troop commander, was a lieutenant with the USM police department for more than two years before arriving in Monmouth.

He announced his move to USM last week.

Lisa Beecher, the previous chief of the university’s police department, retired in April. The department, which is now called the Department of Public Safety, has 10 full-time officers and supervisors and oversees parking, transportation, security and dispatch at the university’s three campuses, in Gorham, Portland and Lewiston.

Monmouth has three full-time officers.

“It’s a chance to be a chief in a considerably bigger department,” said Conger, who lives in New Gloucester.

Conger, who now earns $52,000 year, will get a hefty bump in salary, Lunt said. Beecher earned more than $100,000 in salary and benefits at the time of her retirement, according to published reports.