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Remembering Al Ockenfels: The man who tamed Maine’s ‘wildest place’

Walter Griffin | BDN
Walter Griffin | BDN
Rockland Police Chief Alfred Ockenfels retired from the police department in 2005 after serving as chief for 16 years. He died Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018.
By Lauren Abbate, BDN Staff
Updated:

When former Rockland Police Chief Alfred Ockenfels joined the department in the late 1970s, the coastal city ― with its booming fishing industry and rowdy waterfront district ― had the fourth highest crime rate in Maine.

Ten years after joining the department as a patrol officer, Ockenfels rose to the rank of chief and Rockland’s reputation as a dangerous city began to change.

While the city’s changing demographics played a large role in taking Rockland from a wild fishing town to a budding art destination, those who worked with Ockenfels said the tone he set at the Rockland Police Department was a driving force in making the city a safer place to live and visit.

Ockenfels died on Jan. 13 after suffering a stroke at the age of 72.

“When [Ockenfels] came to Rockland it was the wildest place in Maine, there were motorcycle gangs and fights,” said former Bangor Daily News reporter Emmet Meara. “He really turned that around.”

Ockenfels retired from the police department in 2005, after serving as chief for 16 years. Prior to his tenure in law enforcement, Ockenfels served in the U.S. Army and then became a commercial pilot. A job with Downeast Airlines brought Ockenfels, a New Yorker, to Rockland in the first place.

“I was on my way to Nova Scotia and was stopping for fuel,” Ockenfels told the Bangor Daily News in 2005. “I came down from a high altitude, saw the city and the beautiful coast and knew I was home.”

As chief, Ockenfels was meticulous, dedicated and always professional. “He ran a tight ship,” said Tom Molloy, who was the mayor of Rockland when Ockenfels was police chief. “He was able to instill in his men a sense of professionalism.”

Rockland Deputy Chief Chris Young was hired by Ockenfels. He remembers Ockenfels as simply “The Chief.” Young said Ockenfels work ethic set the tone for the department, which played a role in the city’s declining crime rate.

“He was the guy who got stuff done,” Young said. “He understood that you’re not going to be a successful police department working eight hours [or] 10 hours and then going home.”

A defining memory of Ockenfels for Meara was how he handled the shooting of two police officers who were responding to a domestic assault incident during his first year as chief. The officers survived, but the shooter fled.

“Al went to the house where he was and arrested him by shotgun,” Meara said. “He raced into the house and arrested him. That was like the wildest thing that happened in Rockland.”

While he was well-respected for his professionalism, Ockenfels is also remembered for his outgoing personality. Meara said whenever Ockenfels went into coffee shop, he knew everybody in there, along with the name of their kids and where they went to school. “He was incredible,” Meara said.

Meara said Ockenfels had a dry sense of humor, a quality that drove him to pull a favorite prank on both Meara and Young.

When he was a detective, Young had a habit of leaving his car running while conducting an investigation. But then one day, after conducting an interview, Young returned to where he left his cruiser only to find it missing.

The same thing happened to Meara at a local gas station.

Both times, the culprit was Ockenfels, who would always be found with a grin.

A memorial service for Ockenfels will be held Jan. 20 at 1 p.m. at the Burpee, Carpenter and Hutchins Funeral Home in Rockland.

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