BANGOR, Maine — Officer Russ Twaddell III is wearing down his shoe leather walking the same city streets his father patrolled more than two decades ago. The faces and businesses have changed, but the job description is basically the same.
Russ Twaddell Jr., now 68, retired from Bangor Police Department in 1990 after 22 years on the force to make way for his then-21-year-old son, Russ Twaddell III, who he calls “Rusty.”
Twaddell III joined the department on the same day his father retired. Twaddell Jr. passed his badge and locker down to his son.
“The only thing I didn’t give him was my gun,” Twaddell Jr. said, adding that was only because it was a .38-caliber revolver and the department was switching to 9 mm handguns at the time.
As the younger Twaddell, now 44, closes in on retirement, he has taken on the revived downtown walking beat that his father took in the final years of his career more than 20 years ago.
“It’s kind of a nostalgic thing for me,” Twaddell III said. “I like the fact that history’s kind of repeating itself.”
The walking beat fizzled out at some point after Twaddell Jr.’s retirement. However, the police department decided to revive the beat after downtown business owners, residents and the City Council raised concerns about a drastic increase in panhandling, loitering and drug use among groups of people downtown, especially in the Pickering Square area. Twaddell took his new beat in March.
“The downtown area is a fun place to be both during the day and in the evening,” Police Chief Mark Hathaway said Friday. “We want to be certain that we do our part to keep it that way. Officer Twaddell’s presence downtown will hopefully send a message to those who wish to engage in poor behavior that it will not be tolerated, while reassuring those who want to visit downtown that it is safe and enjoyable.”
When he starts his shift, Twaddell parks his cruiser at Pickering Square so people know he’s around. He walks downtown streets, chatting with people he sees every day in businesses or on the sidewalk, some of whom pass him information about incidents they’ve seen or people he might want to keep an eye on that day.
On Friday, with a Bangor Daily News reporter and photographer tailing the officer, he joked that he was being filmed for an episode of “Cops.”
“I probably spend a majority of my day just talking to people,” Twaddell III said.
He popped into several area businesses on Friday to chat with owners. He said people in offices on the upper floor of many downtown businesses frequently provide him valuable intel because they have birds-eye views of downtown trouble spots.
“The business people here are great because they see everything,” Twaddell III said. “I really couldn’t do this without those eyes and ears.”
Having an officer on patrol, talking to people in the area is much more effective than rolling through downtown in a cruiser, business owners said.
Rick Vigue, owner of Rebecca’s, said his store and its patrons “could not be more delighted.”
“It just makes people feel safer,” Vigue said, adding that some of his customers felt uncomfortable parking in the parking garage because it meant they would have to walk through Pickering Square to get to downtown shops. “I wouldn’t want your job for all the tea in China,” Vigue told Twaddell
Several business owners said they are “ecstatic” to see this beat return and that Officer Twaddell’s presence has made a huge difference downtown.
Twaddell III relayed a story from when he first started the beat. He had parked his car next to Pickering Square, and several young adults stepped into the entryway of a closed Broad Street business to smoke spice, a synthetic marijuana that was legal at the time. Not realizing that Twaddell was on patrol and was standing nearby, one of the individuals said he thought he saw the officer move inside the vehicle and that he was “definitely in there.”
“No I’m not,” Twaddell responded loudly from behind the group.
“Seeing them jump and seeing their eyeballs widen was kind of hilarious,” Twaddell III said.
Twaddell Jr. moved to South Carolina three years ago, but Twaddell III calls his father frequently and the two swap stories about their time on foot patrol downtown.
“The beat really hasn’t changed that much,” Twaddell Jr. said. In his day, the walking beat was a daytime shift, whereas his son works into the evening. Bangor police didn’t have a parking enforcement division in the late 1980s, so Twaddell Jr. also had the responsibility of handing out parking tickets. He often walked through stores to “make people think twice about shoplifting.”
Twaddell Jr. said he dealt with some drug and intoxication problems downtown when he was on the beat, but it was nothing to the level of what his son has dealt with.
“Rusty seems to have a bigger responsibility when it comes to that,” Twaddell Jr. said. “He’s got more of a situation than I had there.”
Another thing that has changed is the level of respect officers of the law receive in daily interactions, according to the Twaddells. When Twaddell Jr. walked the streets, he both commanded and demanded respect, even among the intoxicated and disruptive people he dealt with on the beat, according to his son. Today, if Twaddell III tells a group to move along, he’ll often be questioned, cursed or worse.
For example, Twaddell III recently arrested a man who he has arrested three or four times in the past. The man was under the influence of a synthetic drug, and when Twaddell tried to talk to him, the man started singing a song he “wrote” for the officer, Twaddell III said. The song’s lyrics consisted of one, unprintable word.
Twaddell III said he believes conditions downtown have improved drastically since the walking beat returned. When he started the beat, he was bothered by the fact that elderly people living in the apartments in the former Freese’s Department Store building said they were afraid to come out to enjoy Pickering Square because of the people hanging out there.
Now, they’re starting to come out to sit on benches and chat with friends.
“That right there tells me that I’ve made a difference,” Twaddell III said.