Position will also help prepare successor for Chief McFadden’s upcoming retirement

Belfast Police Dept. restores once-defunct position to help lighten administrative load

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 1:45pm

    BELFAST — The Belfast Police Department recently revived the once-defunct position of deputy chief to help manage a department administrative need that will likely continue to grow in scope, according to Chief Michael McFadden.

    McFadden said he went before the Belfast City Council and City Manager Joe Slocum to request the position be brought back, “to help lighten the administrative load on me.”

    “The administrative burden on police departments is expanding, through no fault of our own,” he said. “These are mandates through the state, and it’s all administrative. It doesn’t have anything to do with the product we deliver to the community, it’s just tracking and things of that nature.”

    He believes “that within the next three to five years there’s going to be a mandatory accreditation process that police departments throughout the state are going to have to adhere to or comply with.”

    He said the notion is very popular in some law enforcement circles, including the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, which he said: “is pushing the program pretty hard.”

    “So we decided to get in front of the curve on that,” McFadden said of the potential forthcoming changes.

    Although lightening the administrative load and getting ahead of an expected accreditation process were major motivators in the decision to bring back the position of deputy chief, there was also another change on the horizon that made the position an important one: Chief McFadden’s approaching retirement.

    According to McFadden, part of a police chief’s job is grooming a replacement prior to leaving their position, and he said he had that in mind when requesting for the return of the position of deputy chief. When he considered who he would like to replace him, McFadden looked to then-Detective Gerald Lincoln, who went to the Belfast Police Department following the retirement of Bryan Cunningham in Feb. 2017.

    According to Lincoln, when the job listing was placed in the department he thought his managerial history in the Air Force in addition to his law enforcement career, would help him tackle the role. He soon discovered he was the only person who had applied for the position and started his role as deputy chief in September. Sergeant Matthew Cook took Lincoln’s place as the department’s detective.

    When talking about his reasons for choosing Lincoln as his potential successor, McFadden said: “[Lincoln’s] got tons of experience in administrative levels in the U.S. Airforce, he’s proved himself to be knowledgeable and competent in his law enforcement career and I think his philosophies and outlook on things is very similar to me. The City Council has agreed they want to continue to operate in that direction.” 

    Though he doesn’t have an official date yet, McFadden said the City Council told him it will likely be late summer or early fall when he is able to retire.

    Making deputy chief a permanent position

    McFadden said his recommendation to the City Council was that the position should remain filled at the department even if/when current Deputy Chief Lincoln moves out of the role.

    “The notion is to reduce administrative costs and put that into the frontline people that do the work. The police department… it’s a dynamic business,” he said. “We address a variety of different things, everything from speeding and loud noise complaints, or loud mufflers, to very complicated drug issues and mental health issues that we deal with on a regular basis in the community.”

    McFadden said it has been hard for him to maintain an active and engaged role in community outreach programs “because I have this underlying tremendous responsibility to administrate the police department, and I was the only one doing that.”

    “So I was responsible for creating the budget, buying paper, buying the snow tires, getting the cruisers lettered, figuring out how much gas [the department] needs on a yearly basis, and go out there and try and effect positive change in a community with regard to drug and mental health… listen, it’s inhuman - you can’t do it all,” he said.

    “It occurred to me that if I am looking in one direction I am not looking in all of the other directions, so I can’t look in any one direction for a long period of time because then other portions that I’m responsible for start trailing off,” he said, adding that he hopes the addition of the deputy chief position will help lighten the load going forward.

    McFadden said he hopes that as the department moves forward “in the amount of time I have left, that the deputy chief position is a resource for our patrol division. I have oversight of our detective and school resource officer, and budget and purchasing, and hiring and firing,” he said, adding that although the deputy chief will also have those responsibilities, Lincoln’s primary focus is on the patrol division.

    Lincoln will address the needs of the patrol division, including managing different potential trainings, and assisting officers if/when an obstacle to them performing their duties arises, among other responsibilities.

    “He’s going to address those issues so we can support the patrol officers and make sure that our product that we deliver to the community - public safety in general - that we’re meeting our expectations, basically. It’s very difficult for one person to manage the whole thing,” he said of the now 16 man department, which operates 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

    “It’s pretty difficult to handle. I did it for seven years… it was perhaps my mistake to not go after [the deputy chief] position a little sooner,” he said.

    Despite the many challenges of being the chief of police, McFadden said his decision to retire has nothing to do with the workload that comes with the position.

    “There is nothing negative about my retirement,” he said, adding that he has been planning the move for a while.

    While he has yet to get firm confirmation, McFadden said he expects the transition to occur sometime in late summer or early fall.

    When asked whether he was excited about his upcoming retirement, McFadden appeared pensive.

    “Yeah... I mean, there’s a bunch of mixed emotions, but it’s all positive. It’s a positive thing,” he said, adding that he is “focusing very much on tying up some loose ends in the department.”

    The uniformity of uniforms

    McFadden said he believes the public is very satisfied with the Police Department and the service they provide, but certain things, like all officers having a consistent uniform, are something he wanted to tweak.

    “I would like for little things… like uniformity of uniforms. If you see five police officers at a traffic accident and they’re all on patrol, I want the public to see five of exactly the same uniform,” he said, adding that he believes uniform uniforms demonstrate “a consistency and professional level…. Uniform has always been something that’s important to me because it’s what distinguishes a police officer from the community.”

    McFadden said the issue of varied uniforms just presented itself over time as individual officers chose articles of clothing from approved sources, but little guidance over what types of items were best to buy. While an approved jacket on clearance might meet general requirements, if that same jacket isn’t available in 10 or 15 years, it eventually leads to differing uniforms.

    It wasn’t a matter of looking bad or sloppy according to McFadden, who said of the increased specificity of acceptable attire:

    “It was kind of like flicking a light switch, everybody knew what the expectations were, they were explained, and we’re there. We’ve made adjustments and it’s not like we had to increase the budget to do that,” he said, explaining that the officers already have clothing allowances. “It’s just making sure everybody is consistent across the board.”

    McFadden also had words of praise for his officers, saying: “I’m very proud of my officers and the work that they do and I don’t want anybody to think they’re running around haphazard, that’s not it at all… but I guess what we’re trying to do is just pay a little more attention to detail. Try and organize the place a little better so it’s easier to manage and I think things are certainly going the way I expected they would,” he said.

    “There [are] challenges and then there’s positive change but you can’t effect positive change without some challenges, so we expected it,” he said of the department he’s run for the last seven years. “We’re good.”

    Looking ahead with Deputy Chief Gerald Lincoln

    McFadden isn’t the only one pleased with the department, with Deputy Chief Gerald Lincoln also taking time to express his admiration for the department he may be running in half a year’s time.

    Lincoln, who is originally from the Dixmont area, said when he saw the posting for the position he thought his time in managerial positions within the U.S. Air Force would allow him to bring that experience to the newly revived position.

    Working in the position since September, Lincoln only had positive things to say about the department and about the city he now works to protect.

    “This is a great agency, the city is incredible. You know, Chief McFadden, and all of the officers here... I’m really fortunate to be a part of this and to be in this position to work with such great folks. The support of the city council and city manager is awesome, I mean, they’re just incredible, so it makes the job that much easier. I really enjoy the city and the people here and [I’m] hoping to make the department better and make things better for the people that live here,” Lincoln said.

    When asked about the possibility of becoming the next chief of police, Lincoln said: “that’s something I would love to do.” He continued, “like I said, it’s a great agency and to be able to be the leader, manager, of such a good department, I’d be privileged to do it really, and hopefully, that is in the cards. I’d really love to have the opportunity to do it, so I’m certainly not taking anything for granted. I’m going to continue to work hard and prepare myself the best I can for it, but it’s certainly something I’m looking to try to do.”

    Despite his excitement at the possibility, Lincoln said: “obviously Chief McFadden is still here and as long as he’s still here, he’s the chief.”

    Following McFadden’s official retirement, Lincoln said it is likely the city council would appoint an interim chief to provide some direction to the agency until they select a permanent replacement.

    Erica Thoms can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com