Chief Stillman vows to ‘respond appropriately’

BEING PINNED — Bridgton Police Chief Richard Stillman received his Police Chief lapel pin at Monday’s swearing-in ceremony from his father-in-law, Peter O’Brien. (Geraghty Photo)

BEING PINNED — Bridgton Police Chief Richard Stillman received his Police Chief lapel pin at Monday’s swearing-in ceremony from his father-in-law, Peter O’Brien. (Geraghty Photo)

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The man who spent every summer of his childhood on Moose Pond has returned to Bridgton as its new Police Chief.

Richard B. Stillman was officially sworn in as Police Chief at a Monday welcoming gathering attended by around 30 people, including several of his relatives and fellow law enforcement officers. He began work Monday, which was also the last day of work for Interim Police Chief Jerry Hinton.

Town Manager Bob Peabody said Hinton’s three months of top-notch service to the town, following Kevin Schofield’s departure in April to become Windham Police Chief, was greatly appreciated.

“We quickly lost the term ‘interim’ with regard to him, and he became our police chief,” Peabody said.

Following a swearing-in ceremony officiated by Town Clerk Laurie Chadbourne, Stillman’s father-in-law, Peter O’Brien of Roxbury, Mass., placed a police chief’s pin on Stillman’s lapel.

Hinton told those gathered that the Search Committee had picked the right person.

“I think it’s going to be great,” Hinton said as he stood at the podium beside Stillman. “I think you’re going to have a great chief.”

Stillman, who was hired by Peabody from a field of 19 applicants, signed a letter of agreement that includes a starting salary of $65,000 under a six-month probationary period. Schofield’s salary was only a shade less, at $64,700.

Stillman comes to Bridgton after serving the past 13 years as Chief of Police in Walpole, Mass., a city of around 24,000 people just outside Boston. Since joining the Walpole force in 1977, Stillman has earned many awards and accolades for his policies of community engagement and transparency.

An editorial published Tuesday by The Walpole Times was titled “Stillman leaves a lasting legacy.” The newspaper thanked Stillman for his 38 years of service to Walpole and credited him with bringing his department and Walpole residents together through the advent of community policing.

“Earlier this year, as protesters and officers clashed over policy, departments across the nation strategized on how officers could be more approachable, relatable and responsive to all citizens' needs. That's a precedent that'd already been set in Walpole years ago. Stillman gave the Walpole Police Department a face through community involvement and partnerships,” the editorial stated.

The editorial described Stillman’s move to Bridgton as “easing into retirement,” but in prepared remarks on Monday, Stillman made clear he is a man with a mission who still has plenty of work to do.

“This is your community and your police department,” Stillman said, as most of the eight members of the Bridgton Police Department stood in the back of the downstairs multipurpose room at the Bridgton Municipal Complex.

“I hope in the coming years we get to know each other as friends and neighbors,” Stillman said. “I make this promise: I will do my best to respond appropriately” whenever policing policies are challenged.

Stillman acknowledged that policing has undergone many changes and challenges, but added, “It’s an exciting time. We need to hear from the community about your issues.”

He said he’ll be doing just that in the coming months. He plans to personally drop in at many Bridgton businesses and the schools, both public and private, to hear what is on people’s minds.

“Crime is a community problem, not just a police problem,” he said.

Among those attending Monday’s ceremony was Sgt. Russell McLauchlan of the Conway Police Department, who worked with Stillman in Walpole for several years before taking the Conway job 15 years ago. Stillman joked that McLauchlan “escaped” years before he did from the high-pressure responsibilities of fighting city-based crime. He noted the unavoidable absence at the ceremony of his two sons — Navy Lt. Bill Stillman, 27, stationed on a nuclear submarine somewhere in the Pacific; and and Army Lt. Andy Stillman, 25, stationed in Egypt.

His wife Diane attended, however. She said they are renting in Bridgton for now, but plan to move here when their house in Walpole is sold.

“We came north for every vacation we took,” she said, noting that the vacations were often spent in the company of other Walpole officers.

The Walpole Times editorial stated that “Under Stillman's leadership, the residents see officers as the neighbors that they are and vice versa.”

The column goes on to state: “Stillman has set up a force that's forthcoming with the public. In an area of operation where caution is the norm, the Walpole Police Department has been the most transparent we've worked with — not just compared other towns' law enforcement but other governmental agencies, as well. By being open, honest and willing to provide information to us (along with the realization that covering up and hiding from controversy only makes matters worse) the department has effectively communicated and gained trust with the public, even when addressing sensitive in-house issues.”

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