BANGOR, Maine — In what’s believed to be a first for the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department, a husband and wife from Bangor each received an annual award during a recent summer barbecue for employees and their families.
Sgt. Mike Burgess was named Special Response Team Member of the Year. His wife, Stephanie Burgess, was named Corrections Officer of the Year.
Sheriff Glenn Ross said last week that to his knowledge, the Burgesses are the first married couple employed by the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department to receive annual awards during the same year.
Ross said both are valued members of his department.
Stephanie Burgess has won the respect of co-workers and inmates because of the combination of authority and empathy she brings to her role as a corrections officer, he said.
Mike Burgess, Ross said, “has been a really good addition to our Special Response Team. We’ve been very fortunate.”
“They’re both well-rounded individuals. We’re very, very happy for both of them,” he said.
The Burgesses said they did not expect to receive awards during the Sheriff Department’s annual gathering.
“I was just, like, no way,” Stephanie Burgess, 45, said.
Mike Burgess, 46, also said he didn’t expect any special recognition, though he said that he became suspicious that something might be afoot when his “cop sense” kicked in shortly before the awards were announced.
The two said last week that they were introduced by a mutual friend who worked as a public safety dispatcher at the University of Maine, where Mike Burgess served as a campus police officer for almost 11 years.
They met, they clicked and they eventually married in a garden ceremony on the UMaine campus seven years ago.
“Mike’s my hero,” Stephanie Burgess said, adding that she had a deep respect for law enforcement long before she became part of that community.
“She does a great job,” Mike Burgess said of his wife. “I’m just so proud of her and for what she has done.”
Though Stephanie Burgess said she worried that some people might think this year’s ceremony was “rigged” because she and her husband both won awards, Ross said that certainly was not the case.
“It happened independently,” he said. Stephanie Burgess was among several award winners chosen by supervisors. The Special Response Team nominates its own member of the year, he said.
Burgess began his career in law enforcement as a reserve officer for Old Town in 1989, then worked part-time in Greenbush before becoming a full-time campus police officer at UMaine.
He’s now a sergeant for Penobscot County, assigned to Hermon, where he has worked about five years. He has been a member of the Special Response Team nearly that long.
As a member of the Special Response Team, Burgess is called out when high-risk warrants, such as those involving drugs or guns, are executed, both for the Sheriff’s Department and for the county’s small police departments.
As the team’s lead entry man, Burgess wields the battering ram.
“It’s a little bit different than what you’re used to doing day to day,” Burgess said. “All the guys are great and they all show dedication to service. It’s a good atmosphere and it’s a great team.”
Before moving to Maine, Stephanie Burgess lived in Ontario, Canada, where she held a range of jobs “that had nothing to do with law enforcement.”
She worked as a machinist and welder and as a die cast operator for a Volkswagen plant. She also worked at a Molson brewery.
She said she applied for a job at the jail after a tour she arranged through her sister-in-law Ann Burgess, whose husband, Tom Burgess Jr., is a transport officer.
She was hired part-time, underwent training and eventually became a full-time corrections officer. She recently was selected to take part in special training in crisis intervention.
“I love my job,” she said. “I try not to make a problem any bigger than it is.”
Repeat offenders “know me very well. I have a good rapport with them,” she said.
“I have to give credit to all of my peers for training me,” she said.
Ross said that other 2010 award recipients included:
• Law Enforcement Officer of the Year: Deputy Roy Peary.
• Reserve Officer of the Year: Jim Ellis.
• Employee of the Year: Diane Estey, clerical specialist.
• Volunteer of the Year: Alden McPike, who helps inmates earn general equivalency diplomas.
• Maintenance employee Beverly Ayer was recognized for exemplary job performance.