David Lyons retiring – Speaks to The News

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

Chief of Police David Lyons has announced his retirement from the Bridgton Police Department, effective November 26, 2010.

Lieutenant Peter Madura has been named Interim Chief of Police by Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz.

Berkowitz said of Lt. Madura, who has served the Town of Bridgton for 31 years with the last six years as lieutenant for the Department, “He brings the skills necessary for this important transition period, and I have confidence that Peter will do a great job for the town.”

The town manager said that, in talking with Lt. Madura, he summed up his appointment by saying, “There will be several policies related to the police and dispatching services that the Board of Selectmen must review, as we go forward. The daily operations and services to our citizens will continue, and I know that our officers are ready to take on the challenges as they surface.”

According to Berkowitz, Lt. Madura’s final comment “says it all.”

“I look forward to assuring that our community is protected and served,” Lt. Madura stated.

Chief of Police Lyons speaks

Chief Lyons, who is out of the country, answered several questions via e-mail that were posed to him this week by The Bridgton News:

BN: How many years have you worked for the Bridgton Police Department, both part-time and full-time?

Chief Lyons: I joined the Bridgton Police Department in May of 1973, and graduated from the Maine Municipal Police Academy in 1974. When I was hired by Bridgton at that time, I told Town Manager Irving Linscott and the selectmen that I had already applied to the Maine State Police. I also told them, when they offered me the job that I would only leave if the Maine State Police hired me. Sure enough, in September of 1974, the Maine State Police offered me a position as a new trooper.

I attended the State Police Academy from September of 1974 through December, 1975, retiring as a sergeant in 1997, after 23 years of service.

I came back to Bridgton PD as a patrolman in 1998, and in February of 2004 I applied for and was appointed Chief of Police. My total time as a Bridgton Police Officer was 13 1/2 years.

BN: Did you leave the Bridgton Police Department because you were given an ultimatum to do so — as in “retire now or get fired”?

Chief Lyons: Absolutely not! I left under my own terms, at a time of my choosing. It is true that there has been a history of political maliciousness and intrigue by disgruntled former members of the department who had originally applied for the chief’s position, and a few selectmen who may have had some personal conflicts with the department. Despite the attempts by these former department members to cast doubt on the department’s capabilities, as well as to encourage micro-management of my role as chief, I have been pleased with the support I have received from the public, as well as from the final disposition of the study done several years ago. As far as I am concerned, during my tenure as chief, “The department's professional toilet was flushed and the professional septic tank was pumped out.” We were able to hire some new and some experienced, highly capable and enthusiastic police officers, who soon made all the difference in increasing the professionalism of police services for the town.

BN: How much did the Public Safety Strategies Group survey and report factor in to your decision to retire and move on?

Chief Lyons: I have been considering retirement from the chief’s position for a while now. I wanted to wait until something came along that was right for me and for a time when the department was on a firm foundation. This present assignment in Afghanistan was it. As for the PSSG “study,” it was originally suggested as a way to look for cost savings and determine if the department was being as financially efficient as possible. Specifically, it was to show how we compare to similar departments as far as staffing, equipment, vehicles, budgets, etc. It was also to compare the costs of in-house police and dispatch services to those available through out-sourcing to the state or county. In the end, it was mostly another way for the same former employees and disgruntled selectmen to look at the way I did my job and ran my department, and to try to change the positive direction we’ve been heading in over the past six years. The final report contained many factual inaccuracies and questionable conclusions from their data analysis. Sadly, the process was a complete disgrace to those who asked for it and an unnecessary cost to the town.

BN: Can you say anything at all about what you're doing now and where you are?

Chief Lyons: I am in Afghanistan, working to facilitate and promote U.S. Department of State initiatives in developing police operations with new Afghanistan police officers and police commanders. I am embedded with the Army and working in partnership with them in this endeavor. Beyond that, I cannot speak to it anymore.

BN: Please write a statement about what being Chief of Police in Bridgton meant to you, both personally and professionally, what you believe you accomplished while chief, and what you would have liked to have accomplished, i.e., unfinished goals, etc.

Chief Lyons: Being Chief of Police in Bridgton was not something I had ever anticipated doing. During the open period of application for the job, I did not submit a resume until the last minute. I did so at the urging of a few community leaders and members of the public. I was happy at the time to be a front-line police officer, helping the community in any way that I could. One of the more rewarding things that I did was to become the DARE officer. Taking over the role from Officer Thomas Harriman wasn’t easy, for he did extremely well at it and was a tough act to follow. Still, I knew there were areas within the department that could use some improvement, so I submitted my application.

As for accomplishments while chief, I feel there were many. We created significant community policing initiatives (despite the PSSG report to the contrary), and substantially increased drug enforcement to a high level from almost no enforcement before I took over. Unfortunately, much of this activity could not — and cannot — be made public, due to the nature of it. (The suggestion by PSSG that drugs aren’t a significant problem in the area, despite the officers’ and the public’s knowledge that they are, again shows one of the failings of the study.)

It should be noted that, at the time I was appointed chief, the whole department was in danger of being decertified by the state for lack of meeting the state mandated requirements for minimum training for the previous two years. With the new administration, we rapidly met the minimum requirements and increased specialized training in the areas of drug enforcement, (the whole department); drug recognition expertise, (Officer TJ Reese); death investigation, (Lt. Peter Madura, Officers Brad Gaumont and Phil Jones); advanced firearms and use of force instruction, (Officer Brad Gaumont); increased management and leadership training for key personnel in the department, (myself, Lt. Madura and Officer Mac McCormick); crisis negotiations, (Officers Joshua Muise and TJ Reese). Many of our officers have also been certified by the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to train other staff, as well. In spite of these specialties, no one of us can be totally effective without the team effort and cooperation I have witnessed by our present staff.

We implemented the Maine Criminal Justice Academy mandated policies for the first time for the department, and developed new local policies, which did not exist before I became chief. We developed a new property and evidence handling policy, which was nonexistent before I took over. The town could have gotten into some serious trouble because of this deficiency, and it was a huge task. Most of the credit for the improvements goes to Officer “Mac” McCormick, who took this large problem and brought our operational property and evidence management to a high professional level. We involved the department in the schools more, and the officers collectively took an aggressive posture on underage drinking and alcohol abuse, which included the implementation of a state model policy in this area. Under the direction of Officer Mac McCormick and the team effort by Officers TJ Reese, Joshua Muise, Brad Gaumont and Todd Smolinsky, this initiative made great strides in reducing underage abuse of alcohol and, subsequently, increased the safety of our youth.

I have to say that nothing of any worth was accomplished without the cooperation and hard work of the newer members of the department. We became a well-functioning team, intent upon making the Town of Bridgton a safer and healthier place to live in.

I would like to mention that municipal building superintendent Michael Fitch has always been a great help in keeping our physical plant operating and has been a valuable asset to us all, in helping to provide the highest level of police services for our town.

Dan Managan, our lead dispatcher, who, next to Lieutenant Madura, is the longest serving member of our department. Dan, in managing the dispatch services, did an outstanding job over the years, sometimes without the best of resources, but he always came through in every instance. Dan never said “no” and he and the other dispatchers have performed admirably, in delivering our communications and dispatch services.

I liked being back in Bridgton because of my family roots there and because local small town policing has great rewards — you know most everyone and you can measure successes in a more tangible way. Bridgton is a great community with a lot of wonderful people. There have been a few disgruntled staff along the way, but when you increase the level of professional accountability, it is only human nature to resist it. This is true especially after years of apathy and “do as you please” attitudes. One of the changes that I originally hoped to bring to the department was a new atmosphere of openness and caring for our victims and citizens. I think we moved in that direction pretty well. I will miss Bridgton a great deal, and it will always have a fond spot in my heart.

BN: Also, could you comment on the staff you have built while here and their accomplishments, i.e., increased drug busts, etc.

Chief Lyons: We have been able to recruit and keep newer officers that are better-equipped to handle the expectations of a professional police force. This was accomplished thanks to the vision and good management of Selectman Woody Woodward and Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz. They worked hard during the last union negotiations to increase staff pay rates to a level just below that of the average Maine police department. Due to this, we were able to attract desirable officers who have continued to grow professionally, and who plan on staying here in Bridgton. I have observed them grow and become more efficient and competent each day. I took pride in them while they progressively took more ownership as public servants for our town. Recently, there has been a move to explore contracting with the (Cumberland County) Sheriff's Department. In my professional opinion, this would be disastrous, and would grossly decrease the quality of coverage and service that Bridgton now enjoys. I have watched other towns move on to contract services and, while it is true that money can be saved in the beginning, the level of protection, local control, and quality of service diminishes. I hope that the citizens of town think really long and hard about this.

BN: What would you like to say to the people of Bridgton who you served as Chief of Police for six years?

Chief Lyons: I would like to thank all the present officers and dispatchers of the department for their efforts and teamwork that made us a success and a professional agency for the town. Nothing we accomplished came to be without the help of the Bridgton Community Center, the volunteers of C.H.O.I.C.E.S, the staff and administration of Stevens Brook Elementary School and the school district, the service organizations in town, and many others far too numerous to mention. I think our department came a long way toward cooperating and partnering with the fire department. Many citizens behind the scenes also offered financial help and personal sweat equity in providing extra services and benefits for underprivileged youth in our community. To Lieutenant Peter Madura, now acting chief, I give my thanks for his loyalty and dedication to the town. To all the good people in Bridgton, both permanent and seasonal, I thank them in a big way for all that they have done and continue to do. I would like to thank former Selectmen Robert McHatton and Ed Hatch, and current Selectmen Woody Woodward and Paul Hoyt for their dedication, fair-minded management, leadership and vision for the town. They told me “no” on occasion, but did so without maliciousness and with the best of intentions.

I wish everyone all the best, and hope to eventually see everyone when I return from my new role in Afghanistan.

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