Sanford Police paused  to recognize three longtime officers whom — as of May 24 — have  a combined total of 94 years, six months, five weeks and six days with the department. Recognized by Police Chief Tom Connolly, second from left, with commemorative clocks were, from the left, Corporal Troy Braley, Connolly,  Officer Barbara “Amy” Gagne and School Resource Officer Michael “Tipper” Thornton.  COURTESY PHOTO/Sanford Police

Sanford Police paused to recognize three longtime officers whom — as of May 24 — have a combined total of 94 years, six months, five weeks and six days with the department. Recognized by Police Chief Tom Connolly, second from left, with commemorative clocks were, from the left, Corporal Troy Braley, Connolly, Officer Barbara “Amy” Gagne and School Resource Officer Michael “Tipper” Thornton. COURTESY PHOTO/Sanford Police

SANFORD — More than 31 years after he was first hired by Sanford Police, Corporal Troy Braley still gets a thrill when the pieces of a case come together.

“There’s still the thrill of the chase, an adrenaline rush.” he said. “(The job) is not meant for everybody. Police officers running to the scene when others are running away.”

Barbara “Amy” Gagne is marking more than 33 full-time years with Sanford Police Department after first working as a reserve officer for a year. She became a detective after her first  few years in patrol, where she spent 25 years working with cases involving abused children and as a certified  arson investigator. Now, she’s in her fourth year back on patrol — and still having a good time.

“I absolutely love it. It was the boost I needed,” said Gagne. “You’re out there all the time with everybody.”

Of course, it’s a bit different these days — when the trio started, officers who needed to call into the station had to find a phone booth to do so, Gagne recalled, and reports were written by hand.

Michael “Tipper” Thornton, who is teaching the newly-minted law enforcement program at Sanford Regional Technical Center is a school resource officer — and has been for the past decade  — after about 20 years, give or take, in patrol. Altogether Thornton, who with another officer, Michael Gordon, operates the Sanford Police Cadets program, has 30 years with Sanford Police.

As a young man finishing his degree in law enforcement technology at the University of  Maine Orono, Thornton was looking for a career that didn’t involve being  stuck behind a desk. He was looking for a career where there was always something different happening.

“This fit the bill real well,” said Thornton.

The trio were recognized for their years of service on May 24 by Chief Thomas Connolly, who presented each of them with a commemorative clock, certificate and pin.

For Braley, police work and working with the public came naturally. In an interview late last week, he said his father was police chief in Machias for many years, his brother is a police officer and his mother was a clerk at Washington County Superior Court for 40 years.

Braley was still at Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute, as the community college in South Portland was known in those days, when he was hired by Sanford Police. 

“Law enforcement is an honorable position,” Braley said. “It’s a difficult profession, dealing with everybody’s problems and making decisions that effect people. There are many ways to do the job.”

He said a decision made in the spur of the moment might have been made differently with the benefit of hindsight. 

“We make mistakes. My mistakes can be costly,” he said.

He worries about the seeming lack of interest in police work by young people and how police are sometimes perceived.

“What bothers me is over past few years, there’s been a push toward negative media towards police,” said Braley. “There needs to be more positive (media). We all make mistakes but hold us accountable.”

He points out that there’s such a demand for officers, that some Maine departments are offering financial bonuses for hiring on.

Married, Braley has an adult daughter.

Thornton, who hails from Maine’s  Moosehead Lakes region, is among those looking to inspire the next generation in his role as the SRTC law enforcement instructor.

When he was just starting out, Thornton had applied to Maine State Police, the U.S. Border Patrol and Sanford Police. The state police, as it turned out, instituted a hiring freeze, and he was on the list for the border patrol when he got the job offer in Sanford.

He’s been here ever since, and says he finds the work he does just as interesting today as when he first started.

“I’ve been fortunate I’ve been able to try different things, and each time it’s been a nice change,” said Thornton, known almost universally as “Tipper.” “I get to work with the public still, as an SRO,  and now hopefully will help move along the next generation of officers.”

Thornton is married with two adult daughters.

Gagne was raised in Westbrook. She is married and together with her husband the couple has four adult children. When she’s not working, she likes to spend lots of time in her garden.

When she was growing up, life was different. In a telephone interview last week Gagne described herself as a “street kid.”

“One officer would always stop and talk to me, Officer Wayne Syphers,” Gagne recalled. “He was always nice to all the kids, like a mentor. He  kept me on the straight and narrow so I didn’t get in trouble.”

Syphers would advance in his career to deputy chief in Westbrook. Gagne eventually became a cop.

She completed her high school education at the Portland Street School, for kids who didn’t fit into the regular classroom. As it turns out, one of her instructors was Bill King, now York County sheriff.

“He always offered advice,” said Gagne. She took and passed her GED in Portland and worked in early childhood education for several years before joining Sanford Police. That background with children helped when she was in the detectives division, she said, working with abused children.

She sees a difference in young people these days, and noticed they seem to feel uncomfortable around police officers.

“I don’t know how to fix it,” she said.

From her conversation, it is clear that Gagne likes to fix things; they all do.

Sometimes, things cant’t be fixed.

“The drug issues breaks my heart,” she said. “I feel so bad for people  that get sucked into a heroin addiction or any drug addiction. It’s the saddest thing you’ve ever seen. It’s just sad because you can’t fix it.”

But they’ll all keep trying.  None of the trio — Braley, Thornton or Gagne — plans on retiring any time soon. 

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]


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