CAPE ELIZABETH — Police Chief Neil Williams said he’s looking forward to something new after 45 years of public service.
Williams received a standing ovation during a Sept. 10 Town Council meeting when Town Manager Matt Sturgis announced the chief would be retiring at the end of the year.
Sturgis said he plans to post the job opening by next month in hopes of having someone hired by early December.
“I’d like to take the opportunity to be the first to thank Chief Williams for his dedication to the town … and its citizens,” Sturgis said. “I wish him only the best in his next phase of life.”
When Williams joined the department as a dispatcher in 1973, he said, he never thought about rank – much less imagined he’d be sitting in the chief’s chair 45 years later, reflecting on his time with the department and making plans for retirement.
Williams, a Cape Elizabeth native, graduated from Cape Elizabeth High School and went on to receive an associate degree in law enforcement from Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute (now Southern Maine Community College) and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Maine.
In 1973, he joined the CEPD as a dispatcher. A year later, he was hired as a police officer in Falmouth, where he worked for five years before returning to the CEPD in 1979. He’s been there ever since.
“When I started you didn’t think about things like (rank),” Williams said. “You were happy to have been selected because back then you would have 40 or so people applying, unlike today.”
From detective to sergeant to captain, Williams worked his way through the ranks until he found himself, 18 years ago, being promoted to chief.
Along the way, Williams also graduated from the FBI National Academy in 1994. In 2015, he was recognized by the Maine Association of Police, receiving the David W. Pickering Award as the chief of the year.
“It’s just a great community … As far as working relationships, I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Williams said, giving a nod to Sturgis, former Town Manager Michael McGovern and all department heads.
Although Williams said working for someone like McGovern or Sturgis makes coming to work easy, this was not to say every day was smooth sailing.
The hardest days, Williams said, are when the department responds to incidents, such as fatalities, involving youth.
“It’s very hard to work through something like that,” Williams said. “I grew up in the town so I know a lot of people and families, so it’s very difficult in that way.”
In order to balance his personal and somewhat high-profile professional life in a small town like Cape Elizabeth, Williams said, he’s made it a point to stay true to who he is by being open and accessible to the community.
“Just be yourself,” he said. “Give people the time. I have an open-door policy. Giving people the 15 minutes to sit down and communicate with you. Usually that helps balance out the private with the public.”
When asked what the best part of his job is, and what he’ll miss most, Williams replied, “The camaraderie.”
“No question about that … (Most) of the (14) officers in the department now, I hired or was involved in the hiring process,” Williams said. “The bond is there.”
Building strong and successful bonds with his officers, as well as town staff, Williams said, comes in part by simply listening to everyone he works with.
After 45 years in the field, Williams said he’s looking forward to taking some time off. Eventually, he’ll look for part-time work, but will stay away from anything related to public safety and security.
“Part time, no weekends, no holidays … no nighttime phone calls. … That’s what I want,” Williams said. “I want to do something new.”
After 45 years of public service, Cape Elizabeth Police Chief Neil Williams will retire Dec. 31.