WASHBURN, Maine — After more than half-a-year without a police chief and a close referendum vote in favor of keeping a local police force, Washburn is getting acquainted with Robert Thibeault as the new top law enforcement agent in town.
Since starting the job Monday, Aug. 8, Thibeault said he has not had to deal with any significant crime or public safety event. He has been spending time organizing, planning and getting to know residents.
“It’s kind of overwhelming, but I feel like I’m starting to get my feet underneath me,” Thibeault said.
In June, Washburn voted 173 to 162 against shutting down the town’s police department. With vacancies to fill in posts for chief and an officer, and with ongoing concerns about costs and taxes, town officials decided to ask residents if they wanted to contract out police protection to another agency or keep funding a local department at $168,000 for a full-time police chief, a full-time officer and reservists.
By 11 votes, the town decided to keep the force and Thibeault was hired out of six candidates.
Thibeault, who lives in Mapleton about four miles from downtown Washburn, said he was drawn to the position for a chance to serve a small community.
Born in Connecticut and raised in Florida and Fort Kent by parents with roots in the St. John Valley, Thibeault served in the Marine Corps from 1992 to 1996 and started his law enforcement career with the Presque Isle Police Department in 2005, eventually working with a narcotics-sniffing dog. In 2012, he joined the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office, putting in thousands of miles on the road each year patrolling swaths of Aroostook County.
The police chief job in Washburn was a “new challenge,” Thibeault said. “It’s a chance to service a small community, and it’s a different approach to policing. You have to really take the time to talk to people.”
Thibeault said he would like to establish a strong sense of trust with Washburn’s 1,600-plus residents. The town also is still in the process of hiring a full-time police officer and several part-time reservists.
“Basically, I see my priority as rebuilding the department in a way that builds the citizens of Washburn’s trust, so that the idea of getting rid of the police department never comes up again,” Thibeault said. “They can stop by anytime.”