FALMOUTH — Police Chief Ed Tolan said he hasn’t regretted a single day during his 45 years in law enforcement.

“It’s been challenging and rewarding and I’ve worked with a lot of great people over the years,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it immensely.”

Tolan will retire Dec. 14, the town announced Tuesday, and the search for a replacement is starting.

He has been the chief in Falmouth for the past 23 years and came to town after serving as the chief in Gorham. He began his career as a patrol officer in Cape Elizabeth in 1973 after serving in the U.S. Army for three years.

Tolan was a military police officer in the Army and served both in Vietnam and later at the Pentagon.

His original plan was to become an English teacher, but after his first semester at the University of Maine he was placed on academic suspension due to poor grades. Without a college deferment, Tolan became eligible for the draft.

He remembers walking into the Army recruiter’s office and seeing a life-sized poster of a military police officer and saying, “I’ll try that.”

To this day Tolan is not sure what drew him to become an MP, but he did have a family legacy of public service to live up to.

He never knew his grandfather, who was a lieutenant in the Portland Police Department. His father, a captain with the Portland Fire Department, died in the line of duty when Tolan was 7.

It was more his mother’s dream that he become a teacher, Tolan said. After losing her husband, “my mother always said she didn’t want me to become a fireman because it was too dangerous.”

While Tolan described Maine as “a historically safe state” when it comes to the overall crime rate and deadly force situations, he admitted there were many times when he was nervous.

“You never know what’s going to happen when you pull over a vehicle in the middle of the night,” he said.

And, he said, people in Falmouth would be shocked at the number of times police are called out to deal with a mental health crisis or a drug overdose or bad reaction to taking a chemical substance.

“The mental health system in this country is broken and police officers are on the front line,” Tolan said. “What police officers face today is nothing like what we dealt with in the 1970s,” even though that, too, was a time of great change and turmoil.

“We do have a very safe community in Falmouth and that’s a credit to the officers on the force and to the citizens, who are willing to be helpful,” he said. In fact, one of the things Tolan has most enjoyed about heading up the Police Department is “the cooperation of the citizens.”

That doesn’t mean officers in Falmouth or Maine are not in dangerous jobs.

“We train our officers well and preach to them to be constantly aware of their surroundings,” Tolan said. “Still it’s always difficult when we hear another police officer has been killed.”

He also said that while Falmouth is a safe community, “our calls for service continue to escalate and we need to grow the department to meet that demand.”

Tolan, who has three children and one grandson with another grandchild on the way, had initially thought he would be fully retired by mid-December, but beginning Jan. 1, 2019, he will become the new executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association.

It’s a part-time job, which he’ll do mostly from home, so Tolan is looking forward to the opportunity to travel and spend more time with his family.

In fact, missing holidays, family get-togethers and his children’s school and athletic events were the only drawback to his career in law enforcement, Tolan said.

“I worked a lot of overtime, a lot of nights, weekends and holidays, especially early on in my career,” he said.

But, Tolan also said, “I’ve been so blessed with family support over the years. My wife Barbara has been so understanding. It’s made it a lot easier to have that full support.”

Born and brought up in Portland, Tolan attended Cheverus High School. Following his service in the Army, he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and has since earned a master’s in criminal justice administration.

He also graduated from the executive leadership program at the FBI Academy, which he attended in 1993.

In praising Tolan’s service, Town Manager Nathan Poore said this week that he “leaves an outstanding legacy of highly skilled and professional law enforcement staff.”

Tolan said his time as chief has mostly been spent in budgeting and personnel management, but what he likes about the Falmouth Police Department is that it’s small enough that he still gets to work with his officers day-to-day.

He will miss putting on the uniform, but said the best part about his new job will be the chance to continue to interact with Maine’s top law enforcement officers.

Tolan said every department across the country is scrambling to hire and recruit police officers and it’s no different in Falmouth, where once he would get 150 applications for open spots, but now is lucky to get even 20.

What Tolan wants prospective officers to know is that “this is such a rewarding job, every day is different, you can go a long way on your own initiative and there are a lot of different opportunities even in a department our size.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

After 23 years heading the Falmouth Police Department, Chief Ed Tolan is set to retire in mid-December.