For Portland police officers, working a shift on Peaks Island used to be considered punishment.

“If a supervisor was mad at you, he’d send you out to Peaks,” Officer Randy Richardson said. “Now it’s a primo gig.”

Richardson would know. For most of his 37-year career with the Portland Police Department, he was stationed on Peaks as the  island’s sole officer – on call around the clock, settling disputes, breaking up fights and occasionally responding to more serious crimes.

But all that has ended.

On Friday, the 58-year-old Standish resident worked his final shift on Peaks and more than 60 islanders gathered in the Community Center to surprise him with a retirement party.

On Tuesday, the police department will mark the milestone with its own farewell, when Richardson will receive a plaque for his service.

Richardson was born in South Portland and grew up in Deering Center. He went to the University of Maine to study forestry, but a friend persuaded him to become a police officer. He was hired in 1982 at age 21.

Richardson spent the first few years patrolling his home turf in Deering. But in 1985, he filled in on Peaks for an officer on extended leave. In 1987, the island with fewer than 1,000 year-round residents became Richardson’s regular beat.

Police officer Randy Richardson displays a trespass notice that was jokingly served to him on his last day working at the Peaks Island police station during a surprise retirement party Friday at the island’s community center. Richardson served for Portland police for 37 years and his work brought him close to the Peaks Island community. Press Herald photo by Ben McCanna

The work was difficult because of a lack of resources. If a car drove into the water, for example, there was no tow service to pull it out. If Richardson had to arrest someone, there was no jail to hold the person. If he was confronted with a dangerous situation, it could take as long as an hour for backup to arrive, he said.

Police enforcement on Peaks Island underwent a change in the early 1980s, he said. In the 1960s and 1970s, the island’s firefighters were deputized to do police work. The city later hired public safety officers to patrol the island. By the 1980s, the public safety department was integrated with the police department and police officers took over.

Now, during the off season, one officer covers 24-hour shifts. From Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, there are two officers on duty at all times.

The community’s initial response to a police presence was mixed, Richardson said. Officers’ authority was often challenged.

“Everybody tries to see what they can get away with,” he said.

With that in mind, Richardson had to choose his battles wisely. He had to learn when to make an arrest and when to merely send someone home.

Randy Richardson makes the rounds during his surprise retirement party at the Peaks Island Community Center on Friday. Richardson became well acquainted with island residents over the years. Press Herald photo by Ben McCanna

“If you’re 24 years old going up against a 45-year-old fisherman who’s twice you’re strength, you think you’re going to die,” he said.

To compensate, Richardson immersed himself in the community.

“It was a pretty good idea to get to know people,” he said. “You have to learn how to dig your heels in – to let people know you aren’t afraid to take action – but you also have to meet people. Animosity is easy when you’re anonymous. But when somebody knows your name, those problems go away.”

The more people he met, the easier his job became. He knew whom to call if a car got stuck, for instance. But he also learned nuance.

“The thing about working the same neighborhood is you get to make decisions with a little more information in your back pocket,” he said. “Not everybody deserves to go to jail. Sometimes you have the opportunity to tell people to walk away, and they’re thankful the next day.”

Richardson has handled a fair share of crime over the years – a homicide and a string of arsons, to name a few. He once saw a drunken motorcyclist topple over at low speed and then try to evade apprehension by hiding behind a signpost.

But it’s the quiet moments he’ll remember most, he said.

“I’ll miss all the little kids waving at me, calling me by name,” he said. “I’ll miss stopping in for coffee in the early hours at the cafe. It’s kind of like being Norm in ‘Cheers,’ you know?”

Soon, Richardson will start a part-time job as a harbormaster. Portland police are interviewing his replacement, he said.

As for the island, Richardson said he won’t be a stranger. But he might look a little different.

“Next time they see me, I’ll be in shorts and a polo shirt.”


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