Professional police officers have a set of standards by which they live and work.

The Maine State Police had several books pertaining to policy that were our bibles. As long as we followed the policies and procedures, we knew, in the end, there would not be a problem.

It was how we built trust with the public for whom we worked. In addition, the policies reflect the Maine State Police core values of integrity, fairness, compassion and excellence.

Criminals, though, do not follow such rules.

So it was up to us, the good guys, to figure out ways to get the bad guys and stay within the laws. Countless times, while investigating major crimes, it was tempting to cross that line to get the information I needed to make arrests.

But for me, I couldn’t do it. I know it’s a long road without a curve and sooner or later, I knew, my suspect would mess up and I would be there to pick up the pieces.

This story is an example of needing more information before I could make an arrest. It was frustrating to be so close but still to need more. Knowing and proving are two different things.

As with a lot of cases, good information comes when two people fight. One of them always wants to hurt the other one to get back at them. This case started in 1984 with a phone call.

“Hey Mark, do you know Fred Harris up there in Troy?”

“Yes I do. He’s that farmer, right?”

“Yep. Well he’s got a stolen truck parked out on his property. It was almost new when he got it and it’s been there for a long time. He won’t register it cause it’s stolen but he’s taken most of the good stuff off it and put it on his other trucks,” I was told.

“Really?!”

“Yep, it’s a big red commercial truck. And I want you to catch him with it.”

“Well, I need more than you just telling me it’s stolen,” I told the informer.

“All I know is, it came from out of state and he’s had it for about five years.”

“Well thanks a lot, I’ll see what I can do,” I advised the caller.

This was the frustrating part of law enforcement. The caller was a trusting, solid informer. But this person claiming the truck was stolen was not enough for me to grab it.

I had to prove it was stolen before taking any legal action. There were several ways to do this, including interviewing the suspect. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.

What I needed first was to get the vehicle identification number (VIN) to see whether, in fact, it was stolen. It was so much easier doing an interview when I already knew the facts.

I had a friend in the Maine State Police who was so secretive that most people didn’t know what he did or when he was around. His work was phenomenal. Whenever I needed something done of a secret nature, I called on him to do it. He never let me down and always provided me with the information.

He was also part of the first unit to work strictly with stolen vehicles.

I gave him a call and told him what I needed, and we agreed to meet late one night the following week. It was well after midnight when we hooked up. I took him to the farm and told him the truck in question was somewhere on the farm behind a barn.

My friend took off under the cover of darkness. Our rendezvous point was up the road in about a half-hour. I quietly drove along the road without headlights and waited in the darkness for the trooper to return.

He made it back to my cruiser, but I wasn’t so sure I was going to let him back in. He smelled a lot like the animals on the farm and I did not want that smell permeating my cruiser. He laughed about running smack dab into one of the cows, and how it had scared the cow as much as it had scared him.

Lo and behold, my friend had the information that I needed to prove whether this vehicle was, in fact, stolen. So, reluctantly, I let him back in the cruiser.

I went home and called Maine State Police Headquarters. They ran the VIN through the computers and sure enough, the truck was stolen from out of state in the late 70’s.

I had what I needed. My next step would be to approach the farmer. With the information I had he would know that I knew he was in possession of a stolen vehicle.

The first chance I got I went looking for ol’ Fred. When I drove into his dooryard, he greeted me in the same fashion he always did, with a friendly welcome. I told him that this time I was there for a serious reason. His smile turned to a frown and he asked what the problem was.

“Well Fred, why don’t you tell me about that stolen truck you have out behind the barn.”

He hung his head and his shoulders drooped. It was almost as if he was relieved.

“You have no idea what that truck has put me through all these years. I’m glad you know about it now,” he said.

“Why don’t you tell me the whole story, Fred, from the beginning to right now,” I suggested.

“I was at an agriculture fair out of state and one evening I attended a little party after the fair shut down. I was talking with this guy that was there and we got to talking about trucks and so forth. You know I always drove around in trucks that were worn out, Mark. So I told this guy, who I have no idea who he is, I told him how I would love to get a newer truck sometime, but I just don’t have that kind of money.

“He asked me if I had $500 with me and I told him I did,” Fred continued. “He told me that he knew a guy that wanted to get rid of a truck and would take $500 for it. I told him sure. So the guy leaves and told me to stay put, he would be right back with the truck.

“Sure enough, not a half-hour passed and the guy returns to the party and gets me to come and look at the truck. He told me, ‘Here you go — $500.’ Mark, the paint on the door wasn’t even dry where they covered over the name of the business they stole it from. All I kept saying to myself was, ‘Uh-oh, I’m in trouble.’

“I didn’t want to seem like a big baby so I took the truck and immediately drove it home, sweating all the way, scared to death that I was going to get caught with this truck. I got it home and it never left the property since I got it here. I have fretted over this thing for years. I am relieved that you found out and I can get it over with,” he said.

I ended up confiscating the truck from Fred the farmer. The insurance company was notified of the recovery, and it came and got it and recovered some of the money that it had paid on it years earlier.

I let Fred sweat it out a while longer but, in the end, I never charged him with the crime. I almost think, looking at the big picture, that he was a victim in the case.

Next time, I’ll share a case wherein my secret trooper friend got me involved with the recovery of two stolen vehicles in one night.

Just another day in the life of being a trooper.

Mark Nickerson is a retired Maine State Police Trooper. The 28-year veteran lives in Unity. The award-winning columnist may be reached at menick@uninet.net.