Retired PIPD sergeant reflects on years of service to community

3 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — On April 20, Presque Isle Police Sergeant Mark Barnes left the station after his final day on the job. Police chief Laurie Kelley drove Barnes home in his patrol car, the blue lights flashing as they stopped in front of his home. 

Police officers, firefighters, family and friends stood on both sides of the street and saluted Barnes as Kelley pulled up next to the driveway.

Kelley and Barnes sat together in the car for several minutes as dispatcher Nicole Dyer listed Barnes’s many professional accomplishments and wished him best in his retirement, saying “You can finally call it a day.” 

Barnes then signed off one last time.

“It was emotional,” Barnes said, as he tearfully recalled that day several weeks later. 

When Barnes looks back on his 31 years with PIPD, his most cherished memories are those of his colleagues, the officers he mentored early in their careers as well as the now retired officers, sergeants and chiefs who helped him as he rose through the ranks of the department.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — April 20, 2021 — Colleagues from the Presque Isle Police Department stand with retired sergeant Mark Barnes (front row, fifth from left) after his last day on the job. (Courtesy of Laurie Kelly)

Barnes began his career in Presque Isle as a patrol officer in 1990, after having served as a military police officer in the U.S. Army. He studied criminal justice at Southern Maine Community College while working briefly in Old Orchard Beach. 

A Caribou native, Barnes said he always wanted to return to Aroostook County. When four officer openings became available in Presque Isle, he did not hesitate to apply.

“I was tired of the rat race [in California],” Barnes said, referring to his time in the Army. “Even in southern Maine, I knew I wanted to come home.”

Barnes went on to graduate as valedictorian of his class at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. In the 14 years prior to becoming sergeant, he patrolled the streets of Presque Isle, at first learning the ropes through minor traffic stops. 

As he gained experience, Barnes became part of more serious police calls, including those for theft, driving under the influence and domestic violence. Over the decades, he said, police have become better educated on issues such as domestic violence, substance use disorder and mental health.  

“When I was at the Academy, we had one domestic violence training on a Friday afternoon. Now I think they have a whole week dedicated to that,” Barnes said. “Back then they handled domestic violence more like a regular assault charge.”

In the Presque Isle of the 1990s, drugs were “around,” but addiction, driving under the influence and trafficking were not as common, he said. But in later years of his career Barnes saw a noticeable shift in the amount of drug-related cases officers were investigating.

“[As sergeant] I was the evidence manager, so I took drugs we had confiscated to the lab in Augusta for testing. When I first started, I’d go down every six months or so and we’d have a few cases,” Barnes said. “In my last three or four years, I was going down every month or every other month and we’d have around 15 to 20 cases.”

Barnes also witnessed recent challenges recruiting new police officers. When he began his career, Barnes was hired alongside three other young officers. They were told that 72 people had applied for those four positions. Barnes and his fellow new hires joined a staff of over 20 officers and he would go on to work with hundreds more during his career.

In the years just before his retirement, Barnes said, the department, like many others in Aroostook, began struggling to recruit and retain young officers. 

“It’s not easy. You work nights, weekends and holidays and that can wear them down, especially younger officers,” Barnes said. “You’re under constant scrutiny. A split second decision can be looked at for weeks, months or years. Sometimes you’re in life or death situations.”

Despite the challenges of being in law enforcement, Barnes was grateful for the chance to serve his community and form close, supportive relationships with his colleagues. He served under four chiefs: Jim Ferland, Naldo Gagnon, Matt Irwin and Kelly. 

“I worked with Mark his entire career,” said Kelly, who was hired to the PIPD in 1986. “He is very selfless, moral, dedicated and professional. He is a great friend and loving family man and will surely be missed.”

After three decades of often unpredictable work days and much time spent away from home, Barnes decided it was time for a career change. He now works as a law enforcement officer for the State of Maine Judicial Marshals — a job that now allows him to come home at the same time each evening. Barnes and his wife Paula are looking forward to spending more time with their five children and five grandchildren.

But that does not mean folks in the community are done thanking Barnes for his service. For many weeks after his final send-off, thank you messages could be seen on the marque of the Braden Theater and many other restaurants and businesses. That project became a way for Paula Barnes to pay tribute to her husband’s career.

“Officers see the best and worst in people. They put their lives on the line every day they put that uniform on,” she said. “I’m proud of him.”

For Barnes, retiring has been a mixture of sadness and relief. He is glad to put his former career behind him while keeping friendships with community members who have helped shape his life. 

“It’s good to know I was making a difference everyday,” Barnes said.