ELLSWORTH — Maj. Richard Bishop, when asked about his 39-year law enforcement career, talks not about what he’s done but about the great teachers he’s had.
“I had great mentors that led me in the right direction,” said Bishop, who is retiring Nov. 3.
Bishop noted that deputies he guided from the early years of their careers are leading their own departments now.
Jim Willis is Mount Desert police chief. Alan Brown is Southwest Harbor police chief. And Pat Kane took over Bishop’s role of chief deputy.
“I’m pretty proud of that and maybe I had something to do with influencing them,” Bishop said. “I’ve always had high expectations.”
“A lot of those guys worked for me in corrections and then went into law enforcement,” the major said. “Jimmy and Pat, Steve McFarland worked for me in the jail, Jeff McFarland.”
“You sacrifice a lot to be in this profession,” Bishop said. “Law enforcement was no piece of cake for my wife and kids.”
As chief deputy, he was on call 24/7, 365 days a year.
“To get away from it, really I had to leave the county,” he said.
The Houlton native grew up in Millinocket. He had no designs on law enforcement growing up. Bishop assumed he would work at the mill like his late father.
The elder Bishop had been a prisoner of war for 18 months during World War II. After the war, he worked the mill until his death from a heart attack at 42 when his only son was 12. To that end, one of the organizations that Bishop donates his time to is the Cole Family Foundation in Bangor.
But, Bishop, 65, went to college and his first job after graduation was as an elementary school teacher.
The teacher fell into law enforcement after being offered a job at a Houlton halfway house. It was June 1978. He said he agreed because it was more money than teaching.
The Washington County sheriff at the time, Darrell Crandall Sr., stopped at the halfway house one day.
“Your mom Phyllis Collier?” Crandall asked.
“Yes sir,” Bishop replied.
“Next week you come work for me at the jail,” Crandall told him. That was September 1978.
A few months later Crandall gave Bishop an application for the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. Bishop told him he didn’t want to be in law enforcement. But, that didn’t matter.
“Darrell was the kind of guy who said ‘You’re going to do what I tell you,’” Bishop recalled.
In September 1979, Bishop was sworn in as an Aroostook County deputy.
Ralph Nichols, who is now retired but was Maine Department of Corrections director of inspections and quality assurance, was another mentor.
Nichols tipped off Bishop about a job opening as a jail administrator in Hancock County. That was March 1984.
“I figured I’d stay five years,” Bishop said. “Now it’s been 34.”
In October 1989, then Hancock County Sheriff Bill Clark promoted Bishop to chief deputy in the law enforcement division.
“In 39 years I’ve worked for four sheriffs — Darrell Crandall Sr., Aroostook County Sheriff Edgar Wheeler, Bill Clark and Scott Kane,” he said.
Bishop was promoted to the rank of major when Sheriff Scott Kane took office in 2015.
One of Bishop’s latest projects has been safety planning for schools, which he intends to continue after taking a break. Each school is required by statute to have an emergency plan, he said. Bishop will help private businesses do emergency planning as well.
The law enforcement field, of course, has changed since Bishop started.
“I think the drug situation over the years has changed the most,” particularly the past 15 years, he said. The main problem was once marijuana. Then it was cocaine. Now police are dealing with methamphetamine, heroin and synthetic drugs.
Also, “nobody takes care of their own business,” Bishop said.
The lack of mental health services is straining law enforcement as well as hospital emergency rooms.
“I’ve been involved with mental health collaboratives over the years, not only as a jail administrator but as a law enforcement officer,” Bishop said. “I think that the mental health is the poorest state I’ve ever seen it.”
Lack of resources for the mentally ill is a burden on the hospital emergency rooms, he said.
“In Hancock County, I think law enforcement officers are well-respected to a certain extent,” he said. “Of course we live in these communities.”
Many officers are involved in committees and organizations doing volunteer work as well as coaching youth sports, as is Bishop himself.
The Surry resident has served on the School Board and is now on the Appeals Board.
Bishop volunteers as an Ellsworth High School Football coach and has coached varsity basketball at George Stevens Academy for several years.
But, the police officer is quick to deflect attention away from himself. He rattled off names of police officers who have coached youth sports for years.
“Rick Roberts, Gil Jameson, Scott [Kane], Corey Bagley: look at the rapport they have with young people,” Bishop said.
“Isn’t that our responsibility to a certain extent, to teach these kids lessons that we’ve learned? Maybe that’s why I do it.”