ELLSWORTH, Maine — Motorcycle driving instructor.
That’s the job John DeLeo envisions for himself after he retires next month as chief of the Ellsworth Police Department.
DeLeo, who has been with the department since 1976 and the chief since 1998, told Ellsworth City Manager Michelle Beal last month that he’s decided to step down.
On Friday, DeLeo said he doesn’t have any major plans for his life after April 18, which will be his final day on the job. At the age of 62, he has enrolled to take a motorcycle instructor course that starts Monday, April 21, but he doesn’t expect it to become a new full-time gig.
“It’s time to do something different,” the chief said Friday, seated at the desk of his corner office in City Hall.
DeLeo, a New Jersey native, said he and his wife Donna DeLeo, who is from Blue Hill, have talked about moving farther south, maybe to North Carolina. But she expects to keep working for a while, and he has plenty of projects to do at their Ellsworth home, he added.
“We’ll probably be in Maine for a while,” he said.
John DeLeo moved north to be a student at the University of Maine. He graduated in 1973 with a degree in wildlife management but, after taking a law enforcement class, decided he wanted to be a police officer. He started out with the university’s police department in May 1974 before joining Ellsworth Police Department in the fall of 1976.
He rose through the ranks from patrolman to sergeant to lieutenant, serving at one point as the department’s canine officer.
DeLeo said the technology used in police work has changed a lot over the years. Ellsworth has changed, too. Since the mid-1970s, the city’s population has grown about 50 percent, from roughly 5,000 residents to around 7,500. Over that time, the department has grown from fewer than a dozen full-time officers to 16.
“Back then, you’d be lucky after 2 a.m. to see half a dozen cars [driving down the street],” DeLeo said.
He also said there are some cases from his career he will never forget.
Years ago, DeLeo and former Officer Tommy Jordan responded to a call of an unruly patron at a local bar called the Round Up. The man was drunk and, when he saw the officers pull into the parking lot, he pulled a chainsaw out of his vehicle and started it up, DeLeo said.
He and Jordan drew their weapons, but the man’s friends convinced him to put the chainsaw down and submit peacefully, he said.
Another case from the 1970s was when police were looking for two men who had just robbed Mike’s Store on Water Street at gunpoint. DeLeo said he stopped a vehicle not far away but, when it did not match the description of the car that sped away, he let it go.
As it turned out, DeLeo had stopped the right car after all. The men, who were from the Belfast area, were identified weeks later after one suspect intentionally shot himself dead when his girlfriend refused to believe he had been involved in the robbery, the chief said. The girlfriend called police who soon identified and arrested the second suspect, he added.
DeLeo said he considers himself lucky he wasn’t shot that night, given that one of the suspects later shot himself on purpose. Ever since then, he said he wears a bulletproof vest when he’s on patrol.
“If he was nuts enough to do that …” the chief said, letting the statement trail off. “I dodged a bullet there.”
With a smile, DeLeo said he will miss some, but not all, of the people he deals with in his job. He said he will miss working with other city and departmental officials, and with other police agencies in the area.
The thought of retiring is “a little scary,” he admitted, but “I’m looking forward to it.”
Beal said Friday that DeLeo will be missed. She said he’s done a “stellar” job as a police officer and a department head.
“He’s always had the city’s best interests and that of his officers at heart,” she said.
Beal added that police Lt. Harold Page will serve as acting chief while the city searches for a new police chief. She said the process likely will take several months, but she expects to have a new chief in place by sometime this fall.