BELFAST — Councilors unanimously voted to hire Robert “Bobby” Cormier to be the new police chief at their May 17 meeting and he was sworn in the next day. Deputy Chief Dean Jackson has been the acting chief since Gerry Lincoln retired from the position in February.

New Belfast Police Chief Robert Cormier shakes City Clerk Amy Flood’s hand during his swearing in ceremony at city hall May 18. Courtesy of City of Belfast

Cormier hopes to grow the relationship between the department and residents and take care of the small stuff like speeding and other “quality of life” problems, he said. Officers are already engaged in the community but he wants to find new ways the department can be more involved. He believes that police departments should be part of the community in a team approach to make it better.

Every service call should be treated the same, he said. Just because something may seem small to others, it is usually important to the person calling for service from the department. He wants people to feel heard when they contact the department and like they are getting the best service possible so it instills a sense of pride in the department from the community.

Cormier also hopes to get the department involved with the Special Olympics and Make-A-Wish Foundation, of which he has been a board member of for four years, he said. They are organizations that he is passionate about. He has been to the Special Olympics national games and world games. He also hopes to develop a good relationship with military veteran organizations in town.

Everybody he has encountered has been welcoming, he said. The department and city employees have already made him feel like family. Members of the community have approached him and introduced themselves, as well.

“I think it’s so nice for the community to be so open and welcoming to me, where I didn’t grow up here. It really just makes you feel great to be here,” he said.

New Belfast Police Chief Robert Cormier stands, front row center, with department members at his swearing-in ceremony May 18 at City Hall. Courtesy of City of Belfast

Cormier’s wife has family from the Midcoast area and the couple had been interested in moving to Maine for some time, he said. When they first discussed moving to Maine, there were no job openings, but when his wife saw the Belfast chief position advertised, he applied. They are still in the process of moving and he hopes to be living in the city — or somewhere close by — soon.

A 39-year law enforcement veteran, Cormier was interim chief in Hartford, Vermont, for more than a year before coming to Belfast. Before that he was chief of the Tilton (New Hampshire) Police Department for 14 years.

In the ’90s he was with the Los Angeles Police Department, working in several different divisions in the city from Hollywood to South Los Angeles, he said. He spent two years as supervisor of a vice unit.

The new police chief has experience in tackling opioid-related issues, having dealt with them when the epidemic struck Tilton hard in 2015, he said. The Tilton department began getting overdose calls daily that year. They did not yet know the cause and they did not carry Narcan at the time.

Cormier was president of the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police at the time and the public kept pressing him about the issue, he said. The epidemic caught him off guard. He realized that aside from DARE in fifth grade, young people did not have any other education about the dangers of elicit drugs.

So, that same year he piloted a program called Law Enforcement Against Drugs. He trained officers and teachers to run an hour-long lesson teaching drug prevention once a week in middle schools and high schools.

He realized that many of those children’s parents were dealing with addiction and some even had overdosed, so it was also providing some education to the parents and helping the children understand what their parents were going through, he said. He called the program a “home run.”

Cormier’s department was also hearing from parents telling him their children were addicted to drugs and asking for help, he said. So he started to address the issue with a three-pronged approach that he called “enforcement, prevention and partnerships.”

The department developed partnerships with local recovery programs so that it could offer services to people addicted to substances who committed a crime like theft, he said. If those people were willing to get help for their addiction, the department would work with the court to make recovery a part of their case.

He thinks those experiences can help him deal with the issue here in Belfast, he said. He has also made some federal and state partnerships over he years he thinks he can leverage to help the Belfast department.

At the May 17 council meeting, Councilor Mary Mortier, who was part of the hiring committee for the position, said there were a lot of excellent applicants and that it was tough hiring choice. It came down to two strong candidates and when they both met with the officers as part of the hiring process, Cormier was the clear preference among members of the department and members of the committee.

“We think this is really a turning point and an important day for the city of Belfast and we look forward to you being with us as our chief of police for at least a decade,” she said.

Councilor Neal Harkness said he likes that Cormier has a lot of community engagement on his resume and thinks he will be engaged with the Belfast community, as well.

“… This is a community that expects that; this is a community that, as interim chief and officers will tell you, that people like to know who all the officers are …. And I can just see right off the bat here that we’ve got someone who’s going to do the job and understand that engaging with the average citizen is a big part of that job.”

Cormier hopes to walk around downtown in the next few weeks to get to know people and businesses, as well as hold events like “coffee with a cop” so people can meet him and discuss issues or possible partnerships with the department, he said.

He wants people to know that he is approachable and has an open door to anyone who wants to talk to him, he said. He wants people to feel comfortable asking for him directly or to call him to come look at a problem in their neighborhood. He also welcomes those who just want to pop in to introduce themselves.