Ellsworth Police Chief Glenn Moshier presents Detective Dotty Small with a plaque at an Aug. 10 ceremony honoring her 37 years with the Ellsworth Police Department. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY KATE COUGH

Detective Dotty Small retires after 37 years with EPD

ELLSWORTH — Detective Dotty Small has seen a lot in her 37 years with the Ellsworth Police Department, from which she retired on Friday, Aug. 10.

There was the man she handcuffed while standing in line at the post office, who Small helped connect to a check-kiting scheme that had bilked banks up and down the East Coast out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

His alias was Robert Bean.

“I got a kick out of that,” Small said. “Mr. Bean!”

Then there was the good-old-fashioned police work, such as solving a burglary by matching a suspect’s shoe to a cocoa footprint left at the crime scene. Several men had stolen guns, fireworks and pot from a local residence, spilling bird seed, cocoa and flour in the process. After officers caught up with the men, Small checked one of their shoes: it was a match for the cocoa print, and had bird seed embedded in the sole.

Detective Dotty Small with her “puking animal” ceramic pitcher collection. Small started collecting the animals after she tried to replace a chicken pitcher that broke. That was 298 pitchers ago. “I really am not nuts,” said Small. “It’s something to go and look for.”

Small hadn’t planned on becoming a police officer. The officers she met while working the night shift at Dunkin’ Donuts in high school were friendly, but entering their ranks didn’t cross her mind.

After graduating from Sumner Memorial High School, Small took a job at LaVerdiere’s Drug Store, where she worked for nearly a decade. She met her husband, Richard, who worked at Hancock County Jail; the two married in 1978.

And then, in 1981, a job opened up for a dispatcher in the department. Small was interviewed by the City Council (a procedure that has since been abolished) and stepped into her new role on Aug. 10, 1981.

A few years later, Small attended the Maine State Police Academy, becoming the department’s first female officer in 1987.

“They never shut me out,” said Small of her male colleagues. “But they were protective.”

That didn’t last.

“It didn’t take long before they realized I wanted to be in the middle of it,” she said.

Her gender turned out to be an advantage, said Small, in ways she didn’t expect.

“Men treated me with a lot more respect than women,” Small said. “Only two people have ever really tried to hurt me and they’ve both been women.”

Suspects who were combative with her colleagues often came willingly with her, Small said.

“For many people in this town, she’s their personal police officer,” said Police Chief Glenn Moshier at a party in Small’s honor Friday afternoon, noting that she frequently gives out her personal cell phone number. “She’s never too busy to stop and help anybody.”

Small stepped into her role as detective in 1999, when the position was first created. She attended over 1,000 hours of training in various disciplines. She took a particular liking to forensic interviewing, in which an officer speaks with a suspected victim of child abuse in a taped interview. The process is intended to minimize harm to the child by reducing the number of times he or she has to tell a story.

Small said she didn’t feel pigeonholed and that she was a natural fit for working with children because of her many years as a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer.

“I was kind of the pick,” said Small, adding that she didn’t mind and enjoyed the work. Because perpetrators were often men, “kids would feel more comfortable talking to a woman,” she said.

The cases were often traumatic.

“There are a lot of them you wish you could fix,” Small said.

Although the interview tapes are designed to make the process easier for a child, tapes do not replace testimony, said Small, meaning a child must still be able to tell his or her story on the stand. Cases are often lost for this reason, she said.

“The most frustrating part is when you don’t get a guilty verdict” because a child is unwilling or afraid to testify, Small said.

It was difficult not to let her work spill into her personal life.

“My poor daughter,” said Small. “She was interrogated from the time she was 5. She didn’t know anything else.”

Small also has worked extensively with residents struggling with addiction, playing an “instrumental” role in founding and expanding the department’s Project HOPE (Heroin Opiate Prevention Effort) program, begun in 2016.

She supports “alternative sentencing,” particularly for those with addiction issues, to help deal with jail overcrowding.

Despite its difficulties, her time as an officer did not diminish her faith in humanity.

“I do believe people are still good,” Small said. “Most people want to do right and are good and do things for the wrong reasons.”

The avid knitter and Dachshund-lover is looking forward to time with her family, including her husband, 90-year-old mother, daughter, grandchildren and seven dogs. She may work a bit, as a substitute teacher, perhaps, or as an “angel” with Project HOPE, and perhaps travel.

“I don’t know how we’re going to replace her,” said Chief Moshier. “It’s a really huge void that I can’t even begin to expect we’re going to fill in the near future.”

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Digital Media Strategist
Kate is the paper's Digital Media Strategist, responsible for all things social, and the occasional story too! She's a former reporter for the paper and can be reached at: [email protected]
Kate Cough

Latest posts by Kate Cough (see all)