GARDINER — For take after take, Sam Quintana stood straight, tall and wired for sound in front of tripod-mounted cameras on the boardwalk at Waterfront Park. He repeated his lines, pausing after a phrase for effect or putting emphasis on a different word as directed.

And then he did it in Spanish.

After giving versions of his testimonial — both scripted and informally about what being a police officer in Gardiner means to him — to the crew from Burgess Advertising, Quintana was recorded demonstrating other aspects of his work on foot patrol and in his vehicle at the park and in the police station.

“Man,” he said when it was done more than an hour later, “that’s a lot.”

Quintana, whose duties include being a school resource officer with the Gardiner-area school district, is being featured as one of the next profiles in Hometown Careers, a social media campaign launch by the Maine Municipal Association in 2018 to promote careers in the public sector. Quintana’s inclusion in the hiring effort comes as a number of agencies report having difficulty filling vacancies, particularly for positions in local law enforcement.

When the idea for the social media campaign took root in 2017, communities across the state were facing a retirement crisis, according to Eric Conrad, director of communication and educational services for the municipal association. Because it’s a member service organization, members weighed in on the campaign and endorsed it.

In terms of median age, Maine’s population is oldest (about 45 years old) in the United States. For cities and towns, that means  many department heads and administrative leaders have been approaching retirement age with few people in the pipeline ready to move into those positions. The campaign was intended to highlight the benefits of working in the public sector and populate the next generation of public employees.

“When you think about it, being  public works director in your hometown or the town next to it is a great job, and it’s never going to go away,” Conrad said. “These are really important jobs and you can give back to your community, but they are also very secure jobs, typically with good benefits.”

The campaign worked. Conrad said following the initial appearance of the profiles in 2018, visits to municipal association’s job bank on the homepage of its website — already the most popular page on the site — were up 17% in the 12 months after Hometown Careers launched and there’s no other clear reason for the number of those visits to have increased, Conrad said.

In 2021, the circumstances have shifted a bit. As the coronavirus pandemic is extending into its second year, cities and towns have vacancies they need to fill to carry on the business of local government, running the gamut from transfer station attendants to city managers.

Along with the disruption to daily life, the pandemic has also brought to Maine a host of new residents who have moved from more populated areas and have brought their telecommuting jobs with them. Conrad said those workers have rarely come alone; their spouses, partners or children are now a new pool of potential workers to fill public sector vacancies.

The need now for responders is one of the highest, Conrad said, which is why the municipal association opted to feature a police officer.

Police departments, including Gardiner’s, also have vacancies to fill.

Several years ago, when the tight job market made hiring police officers a challenge, Gardiner was among the communities that offered signing bonuses to fill vacancies. Gardiner Police Chief James Toman said while Gardiner isn’t currently offering a signing bonus, it’s been discussed.

“It’s extremely challenging now to fill positions,” Toman said.

He’s not alone. Toman said he’s advertised the position for six weeks on both the municipal association and the Maine Criminal Justice Academy websites, where nearly 60 positions for police officers and corrections officers are listed. After six weeks, Toman said he’s conducted one interview.

“It’s normal for the times,” he said. “Everyone is struggling to hire. I’m glad Maine Municipal is doing this Hometown Jobs spotlighting law enforcement.”

To that end, he said, Quintana was a strong choice to be featured because he’s a great ambassador for the profession and for the Gardiner Police Department.

“He’s larger than life in his appearance and his personality,” Toman said. “We’re fortunate to have Sam.”

Nick Bowie Haskell of No Umbrella Media, left, records Gardiner police Officer Sam Quintana on April 15 at Gardiner Landing. The recording session is for a segment in Maine Municipal Association’s Hometown Careers series. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Quintana came to Gardiner before he started his career with the Gardiner Police Department in 2014.

“I bounced around from job to job,” he said. “Moving up here from Worcester (Massachusetts) was rough. I found a couple of things that were kind of stable, but not really.”

When he was growing up, he had considered law enforcement but he didn’t want to do it in Worcester, where some of his friends had gotten into trouble, and some of them had died because of that trouble.

Living in Gardiner, where he and his wife bought their house in 2009, changed that. Gardiner is where his family lives, where his children take dance lessons and play basketball, where he goes to grocery shop, and where he knows that the children he interacts with know that Officer Sam has their backs.

Nick Bowie Haskell, of No Umbrella Media, left, records Gardiner police Officer Sam Quintana on April 15 in the Gardiner Police Station for a video that’s part of the Maine Municipal Association’s Hometown Careers series. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“When I was growing up in Worcester — this was just me growing up — you didn’t grow up (to) do anything,” he said. “If you did well, you maybe got a job working as a mechanic or something at VIP or changing oil. Making police work a realistic option (for someone), if you have the opportunity,  then you have to jump at it.”

Quintana, who has taken part in cultural competency and implicit bias training, said given the current turmoil that faces law enforcement in the United States, he considers himself lucky that policing is not perceived that way in Gardiner.

“This is a career field where you really should not settle,” he said. “You need to have good quality individuals working for you so that some of the things you see across the country don’t happen to your agency. You gotta get high quality individuals doing high quality work.”


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