CAPE ELIZABETH — Paul Fenton, a 21-year veteran of the Police Department and its next chief, has been working toward the job for years.
“I never wanted to be a police chief,” Fenton said Nov. 15. “I wanted to be Cape Elizabeth’s police chief.”
Town Manager Matt Sturgis announced Fenton had been chosen for the position Nov. 9. He will replace Chief Neil Williams, who has held the position for 19 years and has served on the force for almost 40.
“The chief position attracted many exceptional candidates and the selection process was extremely competitive,” Sturgis said in a press release. “To have a candidate successfully develop and advance through the department to the chief position is a testament to succession planning.”
After joining the force in 1997, Fenton moved through the ranks from patrol officer to detective, and then in 2013 became a sergeant, which is also when he decided to go back to school to get his Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration.
Prior to coming to Cape Elizabeth, he worked for a year as a reserve officer for the Old Orchard Beach Police Department.
He is also a graduate of Cheverus High School and Brandeis University, as well as the FBI’s National Academy, which, he said, was by far the most “consolidated amount of professional growth” he’s ever experienced.
Fenton said he always wanted a leadership position, and after being promoted to sergeant, knew he “had to keep working” if he wanted to be chief one day.
A common thread that has run through each of his positions in Cape Elizabeth, however, had been connecting on a personal level with local residents.
When he first became an officer in town, Fenton said many teens congregated at Kettle Cove. He would often park his squad car in the middle of the group just to chat.
Those close relationships extended to criminal cases, too. For instance, he has gotten to know some local young people in what he called “the recovery community” quite well.
“I have pretty good connections with some of my suspects as well as victims,” he said.
And, while Fenton called Cape Elizabeth “a small community” that is tight-knit and safe in general, he also said like anywhere else, it is not “immune to crime.”
Recently, he said he has seen “an uptick” in cases dealing with people with mental illness, which he has seen affect people of all ages.
“Lots of times what we’re doing (as police officers) is problem-solving,” Fenton said. “Mental illness is not an issue easily solved.”
Working with mental health liaisons in the community and surrounding towns such as South Portland, he said, is key, and noted there is good “interconnectivity” between the police department and such institutions.
There is also an interconnectivity in the department itself, Fenton said.
A married Portland resident and father of two young sons, Fenton said other officers are always willing to swap shifts if they know someone’s child has a sports game or other activity.
He also said because Chief Williams has created a culture of such “well-educated, well-informed” officers, he does not feel there are any big changes or overhauls that need to be done to the force – only small tweaks.
Ultimately, he said he is excited to work with the same people he knows already, but in a different capacity.
“We’re like a little family ourselves,” he said. “I could not be more lucky than to lead the group.”
Paul Fenton, a 21-year veteran of the Cape Elizabeth Police Department, has been chosen as the department’s new chief. He will replace Neil Williams, who has served on the force for nearly 40 years, 19 of them as chief.