The Clinton Police Department has promoted a veteran part-time officer to sergeant to provide additional leadership and a better chain of command, according to the chief.

The promotion of Rusty Bell, a former Kennebec Sheriff’s Department sergeant and Pittsfield police officer, allows the department to better use Bell’s experience and skills, Police Chief Craig Johnson said Tuesday. Bell was hired as a reserve officer in the spring.

“Since he got here, Bell’s been coming to me to see what he could help with,” Johnson said. “The reserve officers knew of his abilities, they turned to him for guidance. They’re turning to him more, which frees me up to do other chief duties.”

He said he hopes the promotion of Bell, 52, will help the department run smoother.

“People have said that they’re glad Bell’s here and the department is finally getting help,” Johnson said, adding that a father and son came to the police station last week and made a point to compliment Bell and reserve officer Karl Roy during recent interactions.

“It’s a stage now where one man isn’t doing everything,” Johnson said. “Now Sgt. Bell and I share some of those duties.”

The department’s budget was rejected by voters at the annual Town Meeting in June and could have eventually dissolved the department. Some residents complained about an abundance of traffic citations handed out by Clinton police, which increased to 67 in 2012 from 25 in 2011.

The department’s budget, however, was later approved by voters in August.

Voters in Clinton have questioned the need for a local police department in years past, and in 2009 also rejected the department’s budget. After it was rejected a second time, it passed at the June 2010 Town Meeting.

Bell, who owns Yankee Communication, Yankee Trophy and Benton Family Fun Park, will receive a dollar-per-hour raise. In accepting the position, Bell’s pay goes from $11.47 per hour for a reserve officers to $12.47 per hour, and depending on the week, he could work anywhere from 25 to 45 hours.

“The position is kind of unconventional, but it’s so the chief can take advantage of my experience,” Bell said. “I have other things going on, so it’s not practical for me to sign up full-time.”

The change, Bell said, is to build a better communication network with Johnson and the rest of the reserve officers. Clinton has one full-time officer, Charles Theobald, but he’s currently finishing his training at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro. Theobald is expected to finish his training in December.

“The sergeant is kind of a bridge from the administration to the rest of the guys,” Bell said.

Bell started as a reserve officer in May, and the rest of the reserve officers looked to him for leadership, Johnson said. Bell was an officer at the Pittsfield Police Department from 1980 to 1983 before joining the Kennebec Sheriff’s Office.

In his four years there he rose to sergeant and started the search dog program. In 1987, Bell worked as a bureau of motor vehicle detective for the Department of the Secretary of State.

“Because of his background, everyone in the department sort of gravitated toward him in a supervisory role,” Johnson said.

Bell said there wasn’t much conversation going into the promotion — his wife knew about it before he did.

“The week before Halloween I had a wisdom tooth taken out and was on the couch and Craig came over and gave me a letter and a new uniform,” he said. “He had conspired with my wife.”

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239 [email protected] Twitter: @jessescardina

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