MMA presents Caribou police chief lifetime achievement award

6 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou Police Chief Michael Gahagan had no idea he would be receiving the Ethel N. Kelley Memorial Award while attending the Maine Municipal Association’s annual convention in Augusta this October, and he was surprised to find fellow department heads and even former Caribou city managers present when he arrived.

Gahagan later discovered that Caribou Tax Assessor Penny Thompson had put a nomination together along with several municipal department heads, and joked that they all knowingly kept a secret from “the chief of police.”

“I’ve got the names of everyone involved,” he said with a laugh.

Even members of his family were in on the surprise, and convinced him to attend under the pretense that his daughter, a social worker for Pathways of Maine, was going to win an award.

Once he arrived, he said he wasn’t too surprised to see all the familiar faces, as he expected most to be in attendance. He didn’t learn about the ruse until County Administrator Ryan Pelletier, a chair for the award committee, took Gahagan into a separate room and told him about his winning.

“It was a big surprise, that’s for sure,” Gahagan said. “Maybe one of the biggest I’ve received. Normally you know what’s going on, but this time they held it all from me.”

The chief is no stranger to awards. Just within the last few years, the Maine Children’s Trust presented him the Community Partner Award and the Maine Elks’ Association gave him the Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Award.

Gahagan said he feels both honored and humbled about the MMA award, adding that it’s all thanks to the people he works with, the community he grew up in, and his upbringing.

His father, Arnold Gahagan, served the city of Caribou for 44 years and was the city’s first full-time fireman. He also served as fire chief for a year.

When Michael began his career with the city, he said his father gave him some advice that still resonates with him 45 years later.

“He said, ‘Son, you may have many bosses, and work for many people, but you really only work for the citizens of Caribou,’” Gahagan recalled.

Some of the criteria for the award are that the recipient demonstrate a capability and willingness to hold a community together along with having a selfless concern for others in the community. Gahagan said that because he’s able to work in the city he grew up in, he has no trouble meeting those standards.

“It’s pretty easy for me,” he said. “This is my hometown. I know the citizens; they’re my neighbors, friends, the people I went to school with and graduated with.”

He said his relationship with Caribou is not unlike the relationship between Andy Griffith and the fictional town of Mayberry.

“That’s how I’ve always looked at it,” he said. “My whole family is in public service. That’s just what we do. The model for a Rotarian is ‘service above self’ and, well, that’s just my daily life.”

At one point early in his career, Gahagan tracked down a juvenile who broke into a gun shop, took several firearms, and shot at him. Living in such a small community, Gahagan said he still sees that individual, now grown up, and they wave at one another whenever they cross paths.

“My phone number has always been listed,” he said, “and I’ve never received a harassing phone call. I treat everyone the same way I’d want to be treated, whether they’re the ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys.’”

At the MMA convention, Pelletier described Gahagan as a “steady voice of reason for his department and the community” who is “highly respected by his employees, colleagues, and the law enforcement community around Maine.”

On Nov. 13, Caribou city councilors recognized Gahagan for receiving the lifetime achievement award, and after the meeting Gahagan said he hopes to continue serving his hometown in the coming years.

“I hope I have a few more years to serve the community,” he said, “and I hope they still have confidence in me and what the police here are doing. They are the governing factors for me in my work.”