WATERVILLE — Police Sgt. Joseph Shepherd didn’t want a big retirement party with a lot of hoopla, speeches and accolades.

That’s the type of guy he is — one who avoids the limelight, despite his remarkable work ethic and engaging personality, say those who know him.

But if anybody deserves to be feted, they say, it’s Shepherd, who retires Sunday after 31 years at the Police Department.

“Joe certainly had a lot of successes during his career but I would say that his biggest success was an unblemished reputation,” said police Chief Joseph Massey. “If you spend 31 years as a police officer, all of them on the streets, it is a huge accomplishment to end your career with a stellar reputation.”

While Massey was not able to talk Shepherd into having a formal retirement party, the sergeant agreed to a low-key gathering so he could thank those who made his career so enjoyable.

The celebration, open to the public, will be 2-4 p.m. today in the council chambers at The Center downtown.

“I will miss many of the people in the city who have become my friends over the years,” Shepherd, 53, said Wednesday. “I believe the residents and city administration are very fortunate to have such a professional police department.”

Shepherd, who plans to take a position at the new Oxford Casino, started working for the city as a patrol officer in 1981 when he was 22. Things were different then, with bars and nightclubs drawing trouble and requiring officers to respond to multiple fights and disturbances during a single shift.

“One thing that has changed immensely from when I first came here is that we spend a large amount of time dealing with persons who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse,” Shepherd said. “There are many very sad cases out there, and the system cannot adequately deal with it. The hospitals are overwhelmed many times and sometimes we deliver three or four people a day to the emergency room who need to be treated or evaluated.”

Over the last several years, robberies, burglaries and thefts have increased because of an increase in drug activity as people become addicted to opiates, he said.

He said he thinks the city in the next few years will have to increase the police budget and hire two or three more officers. The department had 21 patrol officers 31 years ago and now has 18, he said.

“The workload and time it takes to do reports has increased at least two-fold,” he said. “We do not have much time to be proactive and some days just go from call to call.”

Massey recalled when he joined the department 25 years ago and began working with Shepherd. Massey noticed early on that Shepherd adopted a particular approach for dealing with people — whether they were law-abiding, witnesses, complainants or those charged with crimes.

“Joe used respect, restraint, understanding and a nonthreatening attitude,” Massey said. “With that approach, he was often a problem-solver instead of an enforcer of the law, and if action was required, even the bad guys complied without violence or resistance. I think most of the bad guys who were arrested by Joe thought of him as a friend by the time they bailed out. I think that speaks volumes of an officer’s character and personal integrity.”

Promoted to sergeant in 1992, Shepherd became a supervisor and training officer and did other administrative duties. He holds a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice from University of Maine at Augusta and a master of business administration from Thomas College.

“With his departure, we are going to lose a great deal of institutional knowledge and history, as well as a valued member of the management team,” Massey said. “We are going to lose a supervisor, mentor and colleague and most of all, a good friend.”

City Hall is abuzz this week with news of Shepherd’s impending retirement. Josh Grant, the city’s technology director, said not a day goes by that Shepherd does not sport a smile and display an easy-going manner.

“It makes for a really good work environment when you have co-workers as pleasant as he is,” Grant said.

Police dispatchers Sarah Bailey and Ryan Karagiannes said they will miss his wit and sense of humor.

“Sgt. Shepherd always made it a point to stop by dispatch during his shift and joke around with us and to make sure we had everything we needed,” Karagiannes said.

City Hall custodian David Higgins, who sees Shepherd nearly every day, said he enjoys his personality. “He’s one of those guys who’s fun to be around. He’s enjoyable. Some people just want a job just to have a job and get paid and it doesn’t mean that much to them, but it does to him.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]