View From Glen Hill: The thin but strong blue line

Our summer town of Andover in northwestern Maine has only 800 residents; but this time of year many vacationers pass through, and there are larger towns not too far away.  

What helps to keep things quiet is the presence of Maine Game Warden Brock Clukey.  If you’re a viewer of television’s North Woods Law, you’ve seen him in action. Like all Maine game wardens, he’s trained in multiple specialties, and the yard and garage of his family home, right in the middle of town, reflect that with power boat, ATVs and lots of other equipment stored there for deployment as needed. While game wardens are often called upon for wilderness search and rescue and principally enforce Maine’s strict animal-control and game laws, they also have full police powers. In remote towns like Andover, they’re “the law west of the Pecos,” and equally true for them is what’s said of Texas Rangers: “One riot; one Ranger.” He’s Andover’s thin blue (actually green) line, and his presence matters.

Retired New York City Police Lt. Steve Osborne’s fascinating book The Job chronicles his rise over two decades from rookie officer to head of an anti-gang squad of 50 officers and detectives. While he pulled his sidearm many times, he never discharged his weapon at anyone, finding other ways to deal with what he faced — with a fast mind, lots of street smarts (acquired over time and through some very dicey situations), fists, batons, and Tasers. He is proud of that record and especially of keeping things safe in an inherently unsafe environment. During many of his nights on duty, only three other cars were on patrol in his sector; but he was almost always in paired-officer patrols, and behind him stood more than 34,000 N.Y.P.D. officers for whom an officer-in-distress call always gets top priority.

All of this brings me to our Wilton police force: 44 officers who must cover continuously, three shifts a day, 365 days a year, patrol and detective work, appearances in court, and administration of operations. Crime is low here, and Wilton enjoys the just-announced ranking as our state’s second-safest town. Some think that means that our need for police is low, too. However, the opposite is in fact the truth: While there’s no poll of crooks to find out if the W.P.D.’s effectiveness is a deterrent to them, one need only look at the crime statistics in towns bordering us. It doesn’t take much analysis to realize that criminals would readily look in our direction for bountiful pickings if they thought they could get away with it. They don’t, and that’s because of really excellent police work here that is known to criminals with even half a brain.

They see the patrol cars often prominently deployed at either end of Wilton’s portion of Route 7, making a firm point. They know we have a small but great detective force that’s done sophisticated work in high-profile cases like the killing of Nick Parisot and whose consistent, highly professional, day-in and day-out work on less-high-profile cases is not lost on those who would seek to do us harm. They also learn of the careful and alert patrol work that led to the arrest recently of a man allegedly sexually exploiting a minor. I even had a Weston officer tell me once how tremendously impressed he was, listening at night to the radio channel shared by the two departments, with how active Wilton officers are in stopping suspicious vehicles.  

Wilton officers also, of course, play major roles in our safety wholly apart from crime-deterrence. For example, as those often first on the scene of an accident or health emergency, they administer first aid and even pull victims from burning vehicles as did the late, tremendously highly regarded Wilton Police Sgt. T.J. Tunney.

If you went to “Coffee with a Cop” organized by Lt. Rob Cipolla earlier this month at Dunkin’ Donuts, you had a chance to meet and speak with a dozen of our officers, most of them choosing to be there even though on their off-duty time. You saw a force aware of the important role it plays in our town and anxious to be a presence for the good among us, as they already are, helping in ways that go unheralded for confidentiality or other reasons but which, individually and cumulatively, have great impact. Orlando, Newtown, San Bernardino and sadly so many more, underscore just how important they are: the thin but strong blue line of which we can all be enormously proud.