Rangeley town officials think they have found the type of community-oriented police chief they are looking for in a veteran Kittery police lieutenant who will be sworn in Tuesday to fill a position that has been vacant since November.

Kittery police Lt. Russell French will be sworn in as Rangeley police chief at the selectmen’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. French’s official start date is scheduled to be Feb. 1.

“Our biggest thing is, I wanted someone who can be invested in the community and be a part of the community, and Russ spoke of that in his interview,” Rangeley Town Manager Tim Pellerin said Thursday.

The position was left vacant when Rangeley police Chief Dennis Leahy, who served in the position for nine years, announced his plans to retire effective Nov. 1. Since Leahy’s retirement, Sgt. Jared Austin served the interim role until a replacement was found. Pellerin said the hiring committee for the position, made up of outside law enforcement and community members, received eight applications but ultimately decided on French because of his experience and interest in community-oriented policing.

A 25-year veteran of the Kittery Police Department, French’s initial interest when he saw that Rangeley was looking for a new chief was sparked by something completely unrelated to policing: bird hunting.

French and his former Kittery police partner had traveled for years to the Moosehead Lake region to go bird hunting and always had talked about hunting in the Rangeley Lakes region, but they never had gone. So when he saw that Rangeley was looking for a new police chief, he took a drive and instantly fell in love with Rangeley’s natural beauty and community.

“As soon as I drove through, I fell in love with the place,” French said. “It’s just beautiful. The mountains, the lakes, the small-town feel.”

French, 55, said he is at a point in his career when he wants to be able to lead and make a difference in the community via the Police Department. With experience as a community policing coordinator for Kittery, both French himself and the hiring committee thought he would be a good fit for leading Rangeley’s department.

“I said to Russ (in his interview), ‘What do you want to get out of this job,'” Pellerin said. “And he said, ‘A year after I retire from Rangeley and I walk into the local convenience store, they still say, ‘Hey chief! Do you want a cup of coffee?'” Pellerin said. “That’s really what we’re looking for. Rangeley is a friendly small-town kind of atmosphere. You get to know your neighbors. You help out when someone needs it.”

Pellerin stressed that policing in a town such as Rangeley is a lot different from being a police chief in a more urban area. He said to be effective, a police chief has to have a good relationship with the residents of the town and community institutions.

French said that kind of relationship-building is a challenge he is excited to get started on.

“I see the opportunity, with it being a small town, to get to know most of the residents over time,” French said. “With that, and once they see you’re sincere, it’s going to lend to being approachable and to develop the partnership you need in a small town in order to be effective.”

Originally from Augusta, French had a police job in Florida before moving back to Maine in 1991 to take his job at the Kittery Police Department. He has since served as a patrolman, a road sergeant and an administrative sergeant, as well as serving as a DARE instructor for 12 years. He and his wife live in Kennebunk and are working on buying a home and moving to Rangeley before his Feb. 1 start date.

While he does not start as police chief officially until Feb. 1, French will be on the job Jan. 21 to 23 for Rangeley’s annual snowmobile event, called “Snodeo.”

“I’ll be in uniform and serving my role,” French said. “I mean, that’s what it’s all about. I might as well jump in head first and get right to work.”

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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