FORT KENT, Maine — Anyone who has spent any time at all living or driving in Fort Kent is well familiar with the “Doody nod.”
From behind the steering wheel of his cruiser, Police Chief Kenneth “Doody” Michaud makes eye contact with a pedestrian or oncoming driver, slightly tilts his head and raises his index finger from the steering wheel in what has become his signature nonverbal greeting.
A lot has changed in law enforcement since Michaud, 69, signed on as a local police officer in 1968 and as chief in 1976, but there was one constant — a connection to the people he served.
And it’s a big part of what he’s going to miss when he steps down on April 30 after 48 years on the job.
Michaud was 20 years old in 1965, living in Connecticut, and wanted to get home to Fort Kent.
Not long after his return to Fort Kent, then-Police Chief Camille Caron paid him a visit and offered him a job as a town cop.
“Camille told me the job was mine if I wanted it,” Michaud said. “He gave me a shirt, told me to get some black pants and gave me a gun belt and said, ‘You start tonight.’”
At the time, Caron and Michaud were the police department in Fort Kent, splitting the day and night shifts, and the town had a bit of a wide-open, frontier character to it.
“We had problems back then with people stealing drugs and starting fights in the bars,” Michaud said.
Things got so bad during his investigation into a series of burglaries and armed robberies that Michaud’s car was firebombed in his own driveway and threats were made against his life.
“It was rough back then,” he said. “We had six bars in Fort Kent and guys were coming up from New York with drugs [and] there were always fights.”
And while there was always risk when responding to calls, there were also a lot of small-town, humorous situations as the Fort Kent police department added officers to its staff over the years.
“This one time I was working with Jim Madore and when we were checking businesses on Main Street one night, we saw a broken front-door window on the drug store,” Michaud said. “Jim went in the back and I went in the front and we saw this guy come out with his jacket full of drugs.”
After disabling the suspect, Michaud said he and Madore inspected his haul.
“I don’t think he really knew what he was doing,” Michaud said. “All he had were hundreds of the pills women use to dry up their breast milk.”
Today Madore is the Aroostook County sheriff, but in the early 1970s he was an officer working with then-assistant chief Michaud.
“I remember going into the drugstore and Doody confronting the guy,” Madore said. “He hit Doody in the face and Doody came right back and popped him in the nose.”
But Madore said Michaud was aware of his surroundings and took special care.
“I remember Doody kind of moved around first so the suspect had to move, too,” Madore said. “So when Doody punched him, he fell between the aisles and did not knock anything over.”
Michaud has been shot at, had a gun held to his stomach by a suspect and once was attacked in his own station house.
But through it all, Michaud said he can’t imagine doing anything else.
At times, it would become a family affair.
“Years back I worked 70 hours a week and I would ask Camille [Caron] if it was OK if my wife, Brenda, rode along with me,” Michaud said.
One night Michaud had to pick up a resident who had been drinking and causing trouble.
The suspect was placed in the front of the cruiser and Brenda Michaud was riding in the backseat.
“I’m taking him to the [police] station and the next thing I know he jumps me, so I slowed down, pulled out my Mace,” Michaud said. “Unfortunately, I missed him and Maced Brenda instead.”
Michaud got the situation under control, got his wife out of the cruiser, sat her down on a nearby bench and instructed her to wait for him to return.
“Before I got back, a friend drove by and saw her and took her home,” he said. “She never wanted to ride along with me after that.”
Then there was the great dairy crimewave along Fort Kent’s Highland Avenue.
“This was when the milkman delivered to the door and people began reporting someone was stealing their milk,” Michaud said. “So early one morning I parked at the end of the street to watch.”
At 5 a.m., he said, down the street ambled a large dog carrying a quart cardboard container of milk in its mouth.
“I watched him and the dog would walk onto a blacktop driveway, drop the quart so it broke and then drink all the milk,” Michaud said.
The chief took the dog into custody and, on the way to the owner’s house, Michaud said, the animal left “a deposit” in the back seat of the cruiser.
“I remember hearing it and looking in the rearview mirror and I swear that dog looked just like it was smiling.”
There were also serious arrests.
“In the old days, there was no such thing as ‘domestic abuse’ and a man’s home was his castle,” Michaud said. “Women were supposed to absorb their punches.”
That never sat well with the chief and back when assault had to be witnessed by an officer before an arrest could be made, he staked out the home of a known abuser to catch him in the act.
But that’s Michaud, Madore said, a man who cares about his town and the residents.
“Doody looks big and tough,” Madore said. “But he carries his heart on his sleeve and if you need him, he bends over backwards to help you.”
And what about that famous nickname?
“My mother loved cats and had this cat named Chickadoody,” Michaud said. “Right after I was born, the cat was [hit by a car] so I got named ‘Doody’ for the cat.”
Former Town Manager and Fort Kent native Alain Ouellette remembers Michaud’s reaction to his own first day on the job.
“You see, Doody knew me well,” Ouellette said. “He looked straight at me and said, ‘Mon petit garcon, after all you put me through, I never thought you would ever be Fort Kent town manager and my boss.’”
Madore, who will retire at the end of this year after 40 years in law enforcement, said he learned a lot from Michaud.
“Doody was always a good listener and that is how he always knew what was going on,” Madore said. “He taught me to listen and to always do what I know is the right thing.”
Michaud is currently the longest serving police chief in Maine and, according to retired South Portland Police Chief Robert Schwartz, he enjoys a solid reputation among his peers.
“He’s a great guy and handles his department really well,” Schwartz said. “He is the right man for that job.”
Retired Town Manager Claude Dumond agreed.
“I worked with [Doody] for 18 years from 1968 to my retirement 1986,” Dumond said. “We always had a really good working relationship and I enjoyed working with him [and] he served his community well.”
It’s a job that entailed patrolling a town containing a hospital, university, courthouse, department of human services and an international border crossing.
“There is a lot of diplomacy every day,” Michaud said. “I am really going to miss it and really miss the people. The people are why I did this for so long.”