Interview with Police Chief Mike McFadden

By Maria Gail | Apr 10, 2013

by Galen


Belfast Police Department: an interview with Mike McFadden

On a December day I met with Belfast's police Chief Mike McFadden to interview him as part of a homeschool project.  I went into our appointment with a long list of questions.  I found him to be very accessible.  It's nice not to have a mystery guy as our police chief, and I learned a lot.

The Police station is located on High Street in downtown Belfast.  I had not been inside the station before our interview.  The station even has its own interrogation room, but does not have a two way mirror like in the movies.

Surprisingly, the only time a Belfast police officer needs to pass a physical fitness test is to get into the police academy.  There are no mandatory physicals for the rest of the officer's career.

Unlike television shows, the station doesn't start the day with a group meeting, discussing the agendas of the day.  Chief McFadden says that would be ideal, but because the officers have staggered shifts it would be impossible.  Instead they use computers to review what has happened since they were last at the station.

The different jobs in the police station vary greatly.  A patrolman spends most of his time in his cruiser and can cover as many as 200 miles in a day.  A detective spends most of his time working independently collecting evidence, so must be self-motivated.  A detective also needs to be able to get a confession out of a criminal.  Without that skill, an officer won't cut it as a detective.  Due to budget constraints, the Belfast police department employs only one detective, unlike the Waldo County Sheriff's Department which has three.  Chief McFadden says that last year Belfast filed only 32 fewer criminal reports than the sheriff's department, so the Belfast detective is kept very busy.

The police station does not go unchecked.  Chief McFadden answers to the town manager, who answers to the City Council, who controls the budget.  However, even though the City Council is at the top of the chain they don't have unconditional power over the police force.  There are laws to protect against government officials swaying the police into using selective enforcement.  Generally McFadden finds the City Council thoughtful and good to work with but says it can be frustrating at times when the two don't agree.

Being a small town police officer in Belfast, one faces all the same dangers as anywhere else in this country with the exception of street gangs which currently don't exist in Maine.  Owning a gun and hunting is part of Maine culture, so Belfast officers often face criminals with guns, who know how to use them.  Getting hit by cars after pulling someone over is also a big danger for officers, and being in Maine where we have long winters with bad driving conditions increases this risk.  Chief McFadden says that responding to domestic violence calls can also be dangerous, when officers walk into a volatile situation.

To my surprise, police are allowed to lie to people.  They can lie about whatever they want in order to get a confession, just as long as they don't lie about your rights.  For example, a detective can get a confession by telling you that a video surveillance camera recorded you shoplifting when in fact the camera was actually broken.  However, they cannot get a confession by telling you that you won't get in trouble if you just confess.   The myth about policemen having to admit to being policemen if asked is not true.  Police are allowed to search someone when they have probable cause, or if they have enough research to back up their reasoning in cases where someone's life is at stake and there's no time for a warrant.  If police do overstep a person's rights they can be sued, and disciplinary action is also taken within the police department.  I asked McFadden whether ordinary people are allowed to make a citizen's arrest.  He said that you can restrain someone breaking the law and then call the police, but if you were to tie them up and bring them to the station yourself you would most likely be sued for kidnapping.  "Just call the police instead," he says.

I had a few questions about Belfast youth and the police department.  I'd heard a rumor that there is a curfew for kids in town.  This is not true.  I also asked whether police are allowed to question kids without their parents present.  This is true. I also learned that Greg Stearns, the school resource officer, answers first to the police chief, not to the school, and can share information about kids with the police department that he learns in the schools.

Parole officers don't work for the police department, they are part of the criminal justice system.  Chief McFadden expressed frustration that the way the bail and parole systems currently work isn't effective because people come out of the system and repeat their crimes.  He says the police department arrests the same few people over and over again.

Overall, the interview was a very enlightening experience.  It's good to take a closer look at things around you that are a part of your everyday life.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Stanley A Stalla | Apr 17, 2013 05:59

This is an extremely well wrtitten and informative article.  My kudos to Galen for this work!  I gather that he may still be in high school.  I wish him well with his academic, and then professional, careers.  If he's interested in journalism, I'm sure that there will be a good spot for him some where "out there."  And thanks, too, to Mike McFadden for taking the time to participate in this interview.  My fiancée and I happened to first bump into Mike, one day last year in City Hall, and by the time we shook his hand good-bye, he had been a witness to our marriage.  I love living in Belfast, for such reasons as Galen and Mike represent. 

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