When I bid on a ride along with Brunswick’s new police chief ,which he offered to help the Brunswick Downtown Association’s auction raise money, I wasn’t expecting to win but wanted to make sure his offer went for a respectable price. Instead of a ride along, I asked Chief Stewart if we could get together to talk about his work, our town and his team. He is whip-smart, confident and has a good sense of humor and a commitment to his job, his team and our town. He explained his approach to leadership by noting that you needed to be surrounded by good people and with pride clear in his voice noted that “the boots on the ground” in Brunswick “are top notch”. His motto “The focus must always be on the best way to accomplish the mission” comes from Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win (which I admit I had to look up).

He is a hands-on leader and will often cover shifts when someone calls in sick at the last minute. He tries to be at shift changes so he can keep up to speed on what is happening, as well as to offer advice when needed. He started a chaplain program last year for death notifications in order to make sure there was someone to help the families after the terrible news was delivered and the officers had to return to work . It was clear to me that he knew the officers were often torn that they had to deliver this devastating news and then leave the families alone with their grief. We also discussed the difficulties officers encountered in dealing with some of the New Mainers who would not call the police because in their countries of origin if the police showed up they would take away their children. He worked with Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services to help explain to this community that if they called because they had been broken into, robbed etc. the police would not be taking away the kids.

I was curious if being Chief in a college town presented any additional challenges, especially given that Bowdoin campus is in the middle of town. He believes the college adds to the diversity of the town, noting that the students introduce his officers to different opinions, issues and cultural challenges which he sees as a positive, and he noted he has a good relationship with former Maine State Police Lt Randy Nichols who oversees Bowdoin’s security team.

The Brunswick Police participated in Raising Pink Men, a fund raiser for breast cancer, and based on his stories Chief Stewart relished his time in the dunk tank, noting that every thrower but one managed to get him wet. Based on his comments, I believe the Chief got some payback with his own fast ball. The department is aggressively pursuing grants and Stewart noted they have received a $6000 grant from American Alzheimer’s Association to buy additional Project Lifesaver bracelets that help them find Alzheimer’s patients and people with autism if they wander, and a grant of $26,000 from Fire House Subs to purchase communications equipment that is crucial when they encounter a barricaded situation.

His pride in his officers is clear when he shared with me that they wanted to their motto to be “Maine’s Finest-Brunswick Pride” He agreed but was clear they would have to live up to the motto and that discipline should be expected because accountability matters. He is very pleased the department is in the last stages of gaining accreditation the State. It was one of the promises he made when he was hired and he is not a man who has any intention of going back on his word.

Merriam Webster defines a police officer as one who holds an office of trust, authority or command. Based on personal experience my own standard for the police is somewhat higher. Because I expect the police to live up to the examples I have experienced – like September 11 when off duty Capitol Police were running toward the complex when I was one of many hurrying away or October 2002 when every time we had to evacuate our Senate Office building during the Beltway Sniper’s shooting spree we were surrounded by officers. At a time when the only stories we seem to hear are about the police are negative, it was refreshing to get a look at our local police through the eyes of their chief. He has a passion for his job and his people and I would not want to be the officer who failed to meet them.

Jane Calderwood lives in Brunswick.

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