SOUTH PORTLAND – On Thursday, Jan. 5, Officer Kevin Battle turned in his badge and retired from the South Portland Police Department after 26 years protecting his city. Given his long tenure, you might mistake him for a native, but Battle is “from away.” In fact, he likes to say, he’s from “far away.”

Battle was born in Ireland 53 years ago. He came to the United States when he was 2 years old, arriving with a note from an orphanage that was the only clue to his origin. It described him simply as, an “unwanted male child.”

Battle grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his adoptive family and, after an abortive attempt at college, which he describes as his “Animal House experience,” he joined the Coast Guard in 1980.

Q: So, what brought you to Maine?

A: The Coast Guard. I was originally slated for boot camp in Florida, but a week beforehand they called me in and said, “You have a change of orders. You’re going to Portland, Maine. Do you have a problem with that?” I said, “No, sir. Just one question – where is it?”

We were on a Coast Guard Cutter, tied up at the State Pier in Portland for the indoctrination of new recruits. This speaker, he said, “Watch out for those South Portland girls, they like to latch on to the military.” So, I raised my hand and he said, “What do you want?” I said, “Which way is South Portland?”

Q: How long did it take you to find your South Portland girl?

A: About two weeks. I was at a place in Portland called Danny’s with a friend. I sat down and this girl, she wanted nothing to do with me, just slid way off over into the corner. Well, I tried to make conversation anyway, and asked her where she was from. She said South Portland and I said, “Oh, my God, they warned us about you South Portland girls.” She took quite an offense to that, and I’ve been married to her now for 33 years.

Q: What prompted you to leave the Coast Guard and sign up for the police department?

A: The Coast Guard was fun. I did five-and-a-half years, and continue in the reserves, putting in 22 years in all, but on active duty you were constantly moving, and I wanted my kids to have roots. It just so happened that when I was ready to get out, South Portland was advertising for a police officer, which was something I had wanted to do for as long as I could remember.

Q: Why did you want to be a police officer?

A: I like working with people. There are some times when it’s not fun but, basically, you get paid to keep people safe. I like that. At least, that’s what I tell people. The truth is I liked playing with the lights and siren. [laughs] That was the main thing.

Q: Do you remember your first call?

A: Yes, it was a prowler call on Evans Street. I was like, I know where that is, now I have to figure out how to get there. It turned out to be a raccoon. We had a lot of issues with raccoons back then. Nine times out of ten, when we got a call for a prowler, it was a raccoon digging in the trash. During the early ‘90s, mange came through and a lot of them got sick. There was a while there when we were getting called out all the time to dispatch them.

Q: So, you’ve had to shoot animals. Were you ever forced to shoot a person?

A: Nope. I had the weapon drawn a number of times, had the hammer back a few times, but the person always complied and things worked out. I got lucky that way.

Q: How about the Taser?

A: I’ve actually tazed two people. One was a lady who intended to do suicide-by-cop, she came at me with a knife in each hand. Two weeks later she came to the police lobby and thanks me for not shooting her, so that was nice. The other one was a young man who had mental issues who was intent on beating up his mother.

Q: As part of the training, didn’t you have to get tazed yourself?

A: No, in my time it was voluntary. My reply was, “Dear Chief, I didn’t have to get shot by a handgun to qualify for that, I have no intention of being shot with this.”

Q: How has the job changed over the years?

A: Well, when I first started, if you wanted to know something on somebody, you went to the card file to see if they had ever been arrested. You’d radio in a 10-21 [call by phone] and give your location. Back then there were several pay phones throughout the city and you’d go to the nearest one and wait for dispatch to call you on it. I’m not sure you could find a pay phone anywhere in the city today.

Q: How has crime in South Portland changed over the years?

A: There used to be a lot of problems with alcohol, especially on second shift. One of the best improvements was to the domestic violence laws. It was a regular occurrence. We’d go to one location for this guy beating up his wife. The neighbors would hear her screaming but there was nothing you could do because she would not press charges – she was afraid of him. When the law changed and I was finally able to arrest him without her having to press charges, oh, he cried all the way to county jail.

Q: How did the city change during your time?

A: Well, the Mall area has grown up tremendously, of course. There’s more of a transient population – people passing through – but we still have the same-sized population. It’s just more culturally diverse. But even though the faces look a little different, the city’s what it’s always been – hard-working middle-class people who want to enjoy their time off. They work hard, they play hard, and a lot of times we get called in to referee.

Q: Which neighborhood has changed the most?

A: Redbank used to have a reputation. Several parents came to me about there being nothing to do out there. I got a few volunteers together and we built a ball field. Afterward, there was a lady who told me she would never dare go into Redbank, because she always heard all these horror stories about it. She was like, hey, it’s actually very nice in here. That’s the thing, all the neighborhoods in South Portland are very nice. Some of them have a little bit more of a reputation that others, but it’s really more reputation than fact.

Q: What’s the craziest or most bizarre call you ever answered?

A: Well, I got a call one time to go to one of the hotels because they found some needles in the hallway. On the way there the call changed – this guy was back looking for his needles, and he was in the parking lot arguing with this lady. He forced her into the car and drove off. I got there in time to pull across in front of him and, when I got out to confront him, he tried to run me over.

We ended up chasing him through the Mall area, out to Scarborough, parts of Gorham and across Portland. It wasn’t really high-speed; it was just continuous. We tried everything – roadblocks, spike mats, a snowplow – trying to get it stopped. At one point they raised the [Casco Bay] bridge.

Finally, I got permission to do what’s called a pit maneuver, to spin him out. Like everybody else, I had seen it on TV, but we didn’t really have training in it. When the most opportune time came, on Forest Avenue, right by McDonald’s. I turned into the back wheel of the vehicle, and it spun absolutely beautifully … until it hit the snow bank. It then proceeded to roll over. It was a Toyota RAV 4, so it rolled nicely. It’s a cool video. But the end result was that we got her out safely, got him to jail, and there was no secondary impact.

Q: Why did you choose to retire?

A: My knees are going. I have advanced arthritis in both knees. If not for that, I’d have stayed. But sooner or later something was going to happen, and if I couldn’t get there quick enough, and someone was going to get away, or someone was going to get hurt, and I’d have to live with the fact that I didn’t do the job properly. I just hope that I did a good job along the way, and that I made a difference.

South Portland police Officer Kevin Battle, shown here Dec. 12,
2009, helping out at a Lions Club charity event at the Target store
near the Maine Mall, has retired after 26 years with the
department. Two years ago he was one of the Mainers who talked to
Current Publishing about working on Christmas Day. When Battle
first joined the force, and had a young family, older officers
would take the Christmas shift so he could be home with his kids.
Now that his kids are grown, he works the holidays. “I’ve got
seniority. I could take Christmas off but one of the guys on my
shift here, he’s got young kids,” Battle said at the time. “When
you have kids, that’s what Christmas is about.” (File photo)
Kevin Battle, in 1996

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