Rusty Bell, Clinton’s police chief, stands in the doorway to his office in 2019. After two residents both recently died by suicide, Bell took to social media to urge people struggling to talk to someone about it. He also publicized his personal cellphone number, saying if they don’t feel comfortable talking with family and friends, they can call him and he will keep their confidence. Morning Sentinel file

Clinton police Chief Rusty Bell takes community policing to a whole other level.

After two town residents, both the same age, died by suicide recently within about six weeks of each other, Bell took to social media to urge people struggling to talk to someone about it.

He went further than that, publicizing his personal cellphone number on the Clinton Police Department’s Facebook page, saying if they don’t feel comfortable talking with family and friends, they can call him and he will keep their confidence.

“Talking is not weakness,” he wrote. “Everyone struggles with something and everyone is dealing with something.”

Bell isn’t just talking the talk. He told me that many years ago he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent radiation treatments that left him extremely depressed and exhausted.

“I can relate to people when they say, ‘I’m depressed,'” he said.


He recalled the time that he was so down he could barely function. He and his family went to the Bangor Mall one day and soon after entering, he told them he had to leave. He crawled into the back of their SUV, covered up with a blanket and went to sleep.

“I didn’t ever want to hurt myself but I felt as though my life had passed too quickly,” he said. “I can relate to people. I mean, I get it.”

Bell described the Clinton men who took their lives — the latest was Damon Bickford, 40, — as smart, hardworking and devoted to their families. They were part of the fabric of the small town. Bickford worked for the town’s highway contractor and was in and out of the town office all the time, interacting with employees, according to Bell.

“He was out grading town roads on Friday and by Monday, he was gone,” Bell said.

The first death was not publicized, but Bickford’s was because when he was reported missing, police reached out to the public for help in finding him. The deaths impacted townspeople, who have been calling Bell to talk about it and ask what they can do to help, and how to help prevent such deaths in the future.

“It’s more personal in a small town,” he said, citing many people who knew the men.


“Travis Leary, the fire chief, went to school with both of those guys,” he said.

Bell says he tells people that, if they notice someone acting differently, to reach out and ask them how they are doing. Talk to them. Listen. Offer to help. Some people don’t want to go to a hospital or program. They feel they aren’t normal and no one else is going through what they are experiencing.

Bell said he understands that.

“I think the only way to fix it is one person at a time,” he said. “It’s me helping you and you helping me.”

Hundreds of people clicked on Bell’s Facebook post. By Friday, nearly 100 people had commented and more than 300 had shared the post. Many commenters also shared stories of their own struggles. One woman said she needed therapy and called many places only to be told there was a yearlong waiting list. Many commenters praised Bell for his compassion and consistent willingness to help people.

“What a wonderful message from our chief of police here in Clinton, Maine,” a woman wrote. “The loss of any life is tragic. Having someone to reach out to and trust is priceless. If you have read his message and you need that someone, please reach out to the chief. Thank you for going above and beyond your duties.”


Having been in law enforcement 43 years, Bell has seen a lot. It is well known about town that when residents are impacted by loss or other unfortunate circumstances, he personally reaches out.

One man wrote on the Facebook post that he has friends who are forever grateful to Bell because he was there for them several years ago when they lost a family member and were in dire need.

“I contacted Rusty and asked him if he could step in and help them on his own time and he did it, far beyond what I asked him for,” the commenter wrote. “The case wasn’t in Clinton and he had no legal responsibility to be involved, but he did this for them, and that’s the kind of guy he is.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She is the author of the book, “Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published in 2023 by Islandport Press. She may be reached at For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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