BANGOR, Maine — When Jim Ryan started dispatching for the Maine State Police 41 years ago, law enforcement personnel and dispatchers had to do their jobs the old fashioned way — using radios and the kind of telephones that had cords.
“You must remember that the technology we have today did not exist,” said Ryan, who started as a state police dispatcher in 1973 and retired Friday as executive director of the Penobscot Regional Communications Center, a post he held since 2006.
Ryan, 64, retired from a second job Saturday as well. In September 1992 he became a police officer for Hampden. For 22 years he experienced a unique dual perspective when reacting to emergencies.
“Working both sides of the radio allowed me to be sympathetic to the needs of both dispatcher and patrolman,” the Bangor native said. “By far, the day-to-day job of a dispatcher is tougher, more stressful and less rewarding.”
Ryan recalled one moment in his lengthy career he used while training others how to be an effective dispatcher. It was 1980. A body was found in Medford lying near the railroad tracks.
“Officers at the scene [identified] the dead man, and it was determined that he had just purchased a new, small pickup truck [missing from the scene], unknown make, model, plate number, etc.,” Ryan said. “I began calling dealerships around the state that sold small pickups figuring, if I could find the dealer … I could get the plate number.”
“By the luck of the Irish, I located a dealer in the Lewiston area, [and] they confirmed the subject’s name, had registration information, address and full description of the vehicle,” he recalled. “I sent out a Law Enforcement Teletype … and 15 minutes after the teletype went out … a stop was made, and the money and murder weapon were in the vehicle and [the occupants] were arrested.”
What he learned firsthand is what he has taught young dispatchers over the years.
“When I teach at the academy, I always tell the new people that you get out of any investigation what you put into it,” Ryan said. “Think outside the box, use the technology [available] and trust your gut feeling.”
He has been on the job during numerous homicides, bank robberies, high speed chases, suicides, VIP details, drug boat seizures and even helped parents with giving birth.
“Critical incidents were always the most exciting to work, and I loved being able to search for information that could help the investigator,” Ryan said.
Before he joined law enforcement, and for years afterward, Ryan served with the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserves. He joined the Navy in 1969 and served on the U.S.S. Damato (DD-871) during the Vietnam War and entered the Navy Reserves in 1973. He retired as command master chief petty officer on June 5, 2004, with 31 years of total military service.
“The jobs have been very rewarding and challenging,” Ryan said of his varied career. “Working in public safety, you never get a call to say, ‘Everything is OK, just wanted to say hi.’ When the call comes in, it is because someone may need help.”
A previous version of this incorrectly stated he served in Korea when he served on the destroyer.