SKOWHEGAN — Sgt. Joel Cummings, of the Skowhegan Police Department, knows he will have some challenges in the weeks to come as interim chief of police.
But he’s used to challenges, having grown up poor in the 1970s in Anson, without running water or indoor plumbing until he was 15.
Cummings, 53, was appointed to the position Wednesday by the Board of Selectmen to fill the role vacated by Chief Donald Bolduc, who resigned to move home to Millinocket. Bolduc, who had planned to leave early next month, was forced to depart early following a consensus agreement by selectmen Monday. The town will advertise for a permanent police chief replacement.
Cummings, who was a military policeman in the Army right after graduating in 1983 from Carrabec High School, has been a Skowhegan police officer since 1989. He’s been a patrol officer, a night sergeant and most recently Bolduc’s second in command in the absence of a deputy chief.
Now he takes over a department of 13 police officers, three shy of a full roster. Cummings also acknowledges that of the 13 currently on board, only four are senior, experienced police officers.
“I do have a vision for the Police Department,” Cummings said in an interview Thursday, not committing either way about whether he is interested in the permanent police chief’s job. “While I am interim, I’m going to see that it is my job, right now, to maintain status quo — evaluate what’s working, what’s not working. If I become chief, or choose to put my hat in the ring, and am selected, then and only then will I implement those type of changes.”
Of the current police force, Cummings said, three officers have less than one year in Skowhegan, five others have less than two years and one less than three years in town.
On the plus side, Cummings said, the department recently hired David Bucknam, a former detective with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, who worked some high-profile cases, including former Chelsea Selectwoman Carole Swan’s extortion case. “He’s coming to us as a veteran; he’s also a war veteran as well,” Cummings said.
Veteran officers in Skowhegan other than Cummings include Sgt. Herb Oliver, Sgt. Don Avery, Officer Tim Williams and school resource Officer David Daigneault.
Officer Tiffany Warren, who also was hired recently, comes to the department from the corrections department and still has to attend the 18-week course at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, Cummings said.
“That’s nine out of the existing officers that have very little experience at Skowhegan,” he said. “That leaves four senior officers, and that’s a challenge. We are finding ourselves in a situation that even our veteran officers are leaving us for various reasons. That puts us in a situation where, if we have to pick from officers from the pool to move them up into the leadership positions, the pool we have right now is extremely inexperienced for these positions.”
The department has three detectives, two night sergeants and a hospital resource officer to round out the roster.
“My wish for this department is that one day we could be a pro-active department,” he said. “In many ways, Chief Bolduc got us as close to that as I’ve ever seen.”
He said the goal is, rather than reacting to calls and incidents, to be pro-active, to be able to instill some educational and community programs — to reinstate a Citizen’s Academy, for example. He said the department also will continue going to banks to give security training for active shooter and workplace violence.
“That’s what I mean by being pro-active — get out there and do some things that aren’t just chasing speeders and responding to domestics,” he said. “A police department can be a lot more involved in the daily lives of citizens, not just in a police role, but as an advocate for the town and people’s welfare.”
Cummings, married to wife Michelle, has two sons and two stepchildren. He said he grew up on West Mills Road in Anson, where the family lived without running water or indoor plumbing until he was about 15. He said times were tough in Maine in those days, but he had a happy childhood while being raised by his mother and his stepfather.
“We graduated by having one of those Eco-toilets for awhile, one of those old peat moss-bottom-laced ones. We thought that was a great invention. We got indoor plumbing in about 1975.”
Seven days after graduating from high school, Cummings joined the Army, attending boot camp at military police school at Fort McClellan, Alabama. He was an MP in Germany for four years, leaving as a sergeant. He later was a supervisor for a force of 30 military police officers at Fort Hood, in Texas.
Cummings said he worked briefly as a night security guard at Waste Management in Norridgewock while he sent resumes to various police departments and sheriff’s offices in Maine.
In December 1989, then-Skowhegan Deputy Chief Harold Brown gave him a call. Larry Jones was police chief at the time.
“I was called in for an interview, had about a 10-minute interview, and at the end of the interview he was already giving me equipment and gave me a date to report to work,” he said.
Brown later became police chief. He was followed in that role by Butch Asselin, Michael Emmons, Ted Blais and Donald Bolduc, whose last day on the job was Tuesday.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367