BANGOR, Maine — Police Chief Ron Gastia said he definitely will miss the people he works with — that’s a given — but what he’ll miss even more is having his fingers on the pulse of the city.
“Right now, I’m in the know,” he said. “After, I won’t be.”
Gastia, 55, announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of September after a 30-year career with the Bangor Police Department, where he has been able to keep tabs on what is happening in and around the Queen City.
“I wouldn’t trade my time with the Bangor Police Department for anything,” Gastia said in a statement. “I am grateful for the experiences and opportunities that my career has provided, none of which I could have imagined.”
Gastia actually started off in public service as an Old Town firefighter when he was 19 and fought fires for more than five years. He was hanging out with fellow firefighters Bruce Buchanan and Don Winslow, both of whom left firefighting to become Bangor police officers.
“I followed them down here,” Gastia said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Winslow went on to become police chief, holding the post right before Gastia.
The action associated with being a police officer is another thing Gastia said he, and others who retire from the field, will miss.
“Do we want to kick doors and take names and do fun things? Of course, we do,” the police chief said. With retirement, “we’re not going to be doing that anymore.”
“Being a police officer is a way of life,” he said later. “It becomes part of who you are. When you’re a [retired] police officer, your whole culture will change. Your whole world will change. I can’t say it any differently. It’s a way of life. Now everything changes. That is the scary part of the whole thing.”
With three decades of experiences, the chief has many things to reminisce about.
When he was a patrolman, Gastia was assigned to the marijuana eradication unit for two years, a position that required him to hang from the side of a helicopter to spot the leafy green plants growing on the ground.
“I had a blast,” he said during a 2007 interview after he became chief.
Gastia was a criminal investigator from 1986 to 1995 and during the early 1990s he worked under the federal drug task force with now-Deputy Chief Peter Arno. They worked in the U.S. attorney’s office in Bangor on high-level drug distribution cases.
He was promoted to sergeant in 1995, lieutenant in 2001 and was the project manager while the new police station was built. The next year, in 2007, he was named chief.
Gastia spoke in May about how hard it has been to hire officers to fill the department’s seven open positions at the time. Two others have retired since, so with him that makes 10 positions the department has to fill.
“We’ve had a lot of 20- to 30-year retirements over the last few months,” City Manager Cathy Conlow said, adding that Gastia’s announcement “was a bit of a surprise.”
Conlow said the city will be hiring a new police chief and there already are five possible recruits in training to help fill some of the slots. She added that the outgoing police chief has established a “phenomenal” command team.
“Chief Gastia has developed an incredibly competent team that will be able to carry forward with the management and oversight of the police department” during the hiring process, she said. “While we are sorry to see him leave, we wish him all the best for his well-deserved retirement.”
The list of his accomplishments includes creating a juvenile diversion program, which now is known as Jump Start and is run through the local YMCA. It continues to help build self-esteem in young first-time offenders.
Another achievement — while “it wasn’t pleasant” — is how the department handled the explosion of the abuse of synthetic bath salts in the area last year, the chief said.
“It needed to be dealt with,” Gastia said. “I felt very fortunate to be part of a collaboration with other departments and agencies to come up with a plan to combat this.”
Gastia made many significant contributions toward the safety and well-being of those living, working and visiting the city, Conlow said.
“There have been many challenges, some great and some small, but all rewarding in the end,” Gastia said. “I care deeply for the city of Bangor, the citizens, and in particular, the Bangor Police Department and its employees, whom I will miss most of all.”
Gastia said he doesn’t yet have a plan for his retirement, but he doesn’t intend to be idle and already knows he’ll someday take another job.
The timing is just right for his departure, he said.
“I want to leave with a good feeling and a good taste in my mouth,” he said. “I’m going to leave with a smile on my face.”