CAPE ELIZABETH — Crime may not be a major concern in Cape Elizabeth, but the Police Department always seems busy.
It’s due in part to the effort by Chief Neil Williams to keep himself and his officers heavily involved in the community. That attitude, along with 41 years of experience in law enforcement, is what helped make Williams the recipient of the David W. Pickering Award for chief of the year from the Maine Association of Police.
“I was very honored,” Williams said. “It was nice receiving an award with (Pickering’s) name on it.”
Pickering was chief in Cape Elizabeth from 1979 until he retired in May 2000 (he died later that year). Williams became chief in June 2000 after Pickering stepped down.
“He was definitely a mentor,” Williams said. “I’m my own person, I do my own thing, but David was definitely a mentor.”
Williams said Pickering taught him to always respect his employees and to listen to their thoughts and opinions. He said his employees are one of his favorite parts about being chief.
“I’m just very thankful that I’ve got a great staff to work with,” he said. “It makes it very easy to come to work every day.”
Williams said his officers are different from officers in other departments because they receive extra training.
“One thing I’m proud of is that we’re one of only a few departments where all of the officers are also EMTs,” he said.
Williams said he’s not sure who nominated him for the chief of the year award, but that he knows it was one of his officers. He received the award at a Jan. 31 ceremony in Portland, which Pickering’s daughter attended.
Williams said aside from working with great officers, he really enjoys the department’s community involvement. He said because there isn’t a lot of crime in Cape Elizabeth, officers are able to focus more on helping residents with everyday issues.
“Our department is more of a community-oriented department,” Williams said. “We can do a lot of things that larger departments can’t do.”
Williams said this includes helping people move their cars when they’re stuck, or giving rides to people who are having transportation issues. He said officers are always willing to assist people who need help around town.
“The people know that they can call us and we’ll listen to them and go help them,” he said. “It sheds a better light on law enforcement when you can do all you can for citizens.”
Williams said this has led to some very interesting calls over the years.
One of his favorites came one Thanksgiving, when someone called the department and said they didn’t know how to roast a turkey. Williams said he’s not sure why the person called the police for advice, but that he tried his best to tell the caller how to cook the turkey.
“We’ve had some hilarious calls,” Williams said. “That’s another example of community-oriented stuff. We do everything here.”
Williams said the department is looking to do even more to work with the community.
“Cape Elizabeth is becoming an older community and the Police Department needs to step up and be able to meet the needs of senior citizens,” he said.
Williams said he’d also like the department to partner more often with the schools. He said he wants to hire a full-time school resource officer to work in all three Cape Elizabeth schools.
Williams said that while most police work is positive, the most difficult times he has experienced as chief have been when accidents happen involving people he knows. The death of Herbert Dennison at the Recycling Center last November was particularly challenging, he said.
“Any of those situations is difficult,” Williams said. “Being in this community, you know the families. That’s the most difficult thing, when I know the family.”
But being part of a closely knit community is what Williams said he really likes about Cape Elizabeth.
“Cape Elizabeth is really a friendly community and people are really involved,” he said.
Williams, 61, said he has been asked recently about when he plans to retire, but he said for now he doesn’t intend to step down anytime soon.
“I’m always keeping my options open,” he said, “but I have nothing planned to move on.”
Cape Elizabeth Police Chief Neil Williams was named chief of the year by the Maine Association of Police last month. Williams has been the department head for almost 15 years.