WATERVILLE — Timothy Russell said he knows how important it is to show support for those who serve.

Russell, 71, who now is on the Sidney Selectboard, served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and wasn’t exactly received warmly upon his return to the United States.

“I was not appreciated when I came home from Vietnam, at all,” he said.

So when Russell heard about an event in Waterville to recognize police, municipal officials and emergency workers, he knew he had to turn out.

“I think it’s important people decide to get together to peacefully support the police, and to show them that we do support them, because without them we’d have anarchy.”

Russell’s admiration for law enforcement and service members was a sentiment he had in common with the seven other people who showed up at noon Saturday at Thomas College for the Walking the Beat march. The event was meant to celebrate the work of the college, which offers courses in criminal justice, forensics, criminal law and political science; as well as police, veterans, firefighters, municipal employees, nurses, doctors, secretaries and others.

At Thomas, organizers Blake Winslow, a senior political science major at the school, and Julian Payne, a Waterville resident, held a banner that read, in purple, spray-painted letters, “WTVL PD DOIN IT RIGHT.”

For Payne, “doing it right” has a lot to do with how Waterville police treat the community’s most vulnerable residents.

“They’ve worked hard to solve the drug problem and reach out and decriminalize it so that people can get treatment,” said Payne, who was elected to the Waterville Board of Education in November and will join the board in January. “You can see them helping the homeless, and we haven’t had any incidents in our local police force that we’ve seen on a national level; so to us, we feel that they’re setting a good example to the whole nation.”

The event also was meant to commemorate Police Appreciation Day, which is Jan. 9. Organizers decided to hold it a month early to avoid treacherous winter weather.

The weather did play a role in the festivities Saturday, as the march did not go on as conceptualized by organizers. The group had planned to meet at the college and then proceed on foot to Head of Falls off Front Street, a 3-mile trek that would have taken about an hour. But because of the low temperature and impending snow, the group decided to drive from Thomas to Head of Falls and then walk to the police station on Colby Street.

Among the people who walked from Head of Falls to the police station were several elected officials, including Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville; City Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4; and Laura Parker, who serves on the Sidney Selectboard.

“A lot more people need to know about the good job the Waterville police do and the innovative things they do like Project Hope,” Madigan said, referring to Operation HOPE, which stands for Heroin Opiate Prevention Effort, a treatment-based approach the department is using to fight the ongoing drug epidemic. “I think too often in these divisive times people kind of try to make a division, and there’s not; we’re all a community here that really appreciates their work,” she continued.

When the group arrived at the police station, they were met by police Chief Joseph Massey and several of the department’s officers. Organizers Payne and Winslow both thanked Massey and the officers for the work they do in Waterville and surrounding communities, and they handed the banner they had made to Massey.

“It’s just wonderful to know that the community supports the Police Department. Like I’ve always said, we’re more successful when we have the community behind us, and we certainly enjoy that here in the city of Waterville,” Massey said of the show of support he saw Saturday. “I’ve been here for almost 32 years, and one of the best rewards you can get for doing what I call a very demanding and challenging job is public appreciation, and we see that every day.”

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: EmilyHigg

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