PORTLAND — Assistant Police Chief Joe Loughlin had no intention of becoming a police officer when he graduated from St. Joseph’s College in 1975 with a degree in natural science.
“I wanted to be a park ranger or naturalist,” Loughlin said, but there was a lack of jobs at the time, and through a federal government program he was sent to be a constable in Riverhead, N.Y.
This week, Loughlin will conclude his career as a Portland police officer, three decades after it began. The veteran cop has held every position within the department, starting as a patrolman and spending a good part of last year as the interim police chief prior to Chief James Craig’s arrival.
“The department has changed dramatically since I began here,” Loughlin said during a recent interview. “It was always a good police department, and we weeded out most of the bad apples over the years.”
Loughlin, 56, said he is confident that Craig will continue to improve the department, citing the chief’s commitment to getting the youth more involved through explorer and athletic programs and other changes he’s made since coming on board in May.
Loughlin said his favorite position within the force was as a patrol sergeant.
“You bear witness to so many crazy things you can’t comprehend,” Loughlin, a native of New York. “No one tells you what’s really going to happen to you.”
Loughlin witnessed many police situations during his career, but one that took place several years ago in the West End stays with him. Loughlin was on patrol one cold winter night when some kids reported hearing crying coming from under a porch. Upon investigation, Loughlin said, he found a newborn under the porch that had been discarded there by a girl.
The baby was taken to Maine Medical Center and survived.
“We called him Jack Frost,” Loughlin said. “I always wondered what happened to Jack Frost.”
Loughlin said police officers have to deal with a lot of emotional stress. In his retirement, he plans to offer seminars and programs about resilience skills and coping mechanisms for police officers. He has already begun consulting for a handful of departments.
The assistant chief has begun writing his second book, entitled “No Reason,” about police work. His first book “Finding Amy, a True Story of Murder in Maine”, was published in 2006. It is about the murder of Amy St. Laurent, a 25-year-old woman who disappeared from the Old Port one night in 2001.
Loughlin, in his spare time, has also started making and bottling steak marinade. Called Loughlin’s, its a family recipe from Brooklyn N.Y, and says so on the bottle. He also claims the sauce cures hangovers.
Although his time on the force has ended, Loughlin is concerned about the future of the city. He said Portland is still a safe place, a “jewel,” but he is concerned about what he described as “the infancy stages of gangs” appearing in the city. Disenfranchised youth are mimicking what they see on television, said Loughlin.
“The police department predicted in the 80s that heroin was going to be a huge problem in the city,” said Loughlin. Today, Loughlin said, there is an abundance of crack and heroin addicts in Portland.
“The gangs are going to be just like heroin,” he said. “And there are too many folks, politicians, with their heads in the sand about it.”
Though Loughlin has lots of plans for his retirement from the force, he plans to spend time this winter visiting family in Florida or Savannah, Ga. But before he goes, the police department has planned a blow-out retirement celebration. It’s scheduled for Jan. 8 at the Eastland Park Hotel, and Loughlin said he hopes the party will be a chance for him to see the people who have impacted his life both professionally and personally.
“It’s going to be hard to leave the people here, the camaraderie is truly amazing,” said Loughlin.
Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Loughlin (File photo)