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July 2, 2001|
(FORT KENT, Maine) - In this small town on the Canadian border, all policing is community policing.
"We do everything from accidents to inspecting kids' bicycles to licensing bicycles," said Police Chief Kenneth Michaud. "I'm the truant officer, the animal control officer, a Jack of all trades."
Michaud heads a department that has four fulltime and two part-time officers in addition to the chief, policing a town of 4,300 people. Fort Kent is also a regional center with a hospital and the University of Maine at Fort Kent. The town is at the north end of U.S. 1 and gets some tourists who come there just to take a snapshot to match the one from Key West, Fla.
.Canadians used to come to Fort Kent to shop, and Canadian students still cross the border to do a fourth college year at the university. But the weak Canadian dollar now lures U.S. citizens north.
"You see trucks come across the bridge every day with roofing material, windows, building materials of all kinds," Michaud said.
The cross-border traffic causes few police problems. The tourist traffic in the summer, when canoeists doing the Allagash end their trips in Fort Kent, or in the winter, when the area is a magnet for snowmobilers, is not hevy enough to require seasonal officers. Most of the local crime consists of underage drinking, speeding and a few thefts. Last year, there was one burglary. In the winter, police have to deal with snowmobile accidents and people who get drunk on the trail.
"I've only been shot at once," Michaud said.
On that occasion, he and another officer responded to a call of a disturbance at a house. When they got there, they saw a hand reaching out from behind a curtain and then discovered that the man inside had a gun. They backed off, escaping without injury except to the police car, which took a bullet in the hood. After the man ran out of ammunition, they arrested him, and he was committed to a mental hospital.
When he was released, the man pulled a gun on a police officer in southern Maine and was shot dead.
Much of what Michaud and his officers spend their time on would not be part of a police officer's job description in larger places - and might not be done at all. They drive sick people to the hospital if they don't need an ambulance and remove skunks and raccoons from yards.
Recently, the police department had to cope with a two-year-old moose that had fallen down a well. The officers called a biologist who used a stun gun to knock the animal out. The moose was lifted out with a tractor and then given another shot to counteract the first drug.
"After a while, he stood up in front of us and walked away," Michaud said.
The officers also assist residents who have locked themselves out of their cars or houses and dispatch the ambulance. Michaud serves as head groomer for the snowmobile club. “They want us to get training for community policing, but we already do all that.”
Michaud says he is known to everyone in town as Doody, a nickname his mother gave him in memory of a cat that had died. He was born in Waterbury, Conn., where his parents had moved to work during World War II, but grew up in Fort Kent. After he got out of school, Michaud tried life in East Orange, N.J. but quit his job and returned home after three weeks.
"That wasn't my kind of living," he said. "It was too fast for me."