Willis takes helm of police chiefs group

BAR HARBOR — Jim Willis, chief of police in Mount Desert and interim police chief in Bar Harbor was installed Sept. 11, as president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA) at the organization’s annual banquet at the Bar Harbor Regency.

He will serve a one-year term.

Membership in the MCPA is open to all Maine police chiefs and their seconds-in-command, as well as to sheriffs and their chief deputies. All of the approximately 110 police chiefs in Maine are members.

The purpose of the organization is to promote professionalism and to advocate for laws and policies that enhance effective law enforcement.

Chief Willis has risen through the leadership ranks of the MCPA, serving during the past year as first vice president. He said in an interview recently that, as president, he wants to continue working to create an accreditation program for Maine law enforcement agencies.

“There is a national accreditation model that is much too expensive and time consuming for many agencies in Maine,” he said. “We want to see if there is interest among smaller agencies in becoming accredited. If there is, we want to explore an accreditation that isn’t quite as hard to attain, yet enhances professionalism and gives communities a sense that their police departments are doing things at a gold standard level.”

At the same time, Chief Willis said, the MCPA is working with the Maine Criminal Justice Academy on improving the advanced certification program for individual police officers.

He said he also is interested in promoting leadership principles in law enforcement.

“I think of it in terms of legacy,” he said. “To me, one of the best things I can leave behind in any agency I work for is people ready to take my job. If I have people ready to do that at any time, then I think that’s a great sign of success.”

Chief Willis said he was inspired by a program he attended a few years ago called Leading by Legacy, which was developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He has arranged for that program to be offered to Maine police chiefs next spring.

“It’s a three-day, intensive round-table discussion with your peers to talk about legacy planning and how you can lead your agency with that in mind,” he said. “It applies to all levels. If we have patrolmen who are ready to be sergeants because we’ve given them opportunities for leadership, then their communities are better off and so is the profession.”

The MCPA offers training programs for its members, conducts department reviews when requested and develops model policies and procedures for use by local law enforcement agencies. The organization also keeps an eye on bills introduced in the Legislature that affect law enforcement.

“Chiefs are sometimes called on to go testify [before a legislative committee],” he said. “Oftentimes, it’s just to give our perspective, but sometimes we do take a position if we feel strongly about something.”

Chief Willis was a member of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department for 16 years before taking a break from law enforcement in 2002. He spent a year as a victim witness advocate in the Hancock County District Attorney’s office, where he assisted victims of crimes, particularly domestic violence and sexual assault.

“That gave me a whole different perspective on the work we do,” Chief Willis said.

He has been police chief in Mount Desert for 11 years and interim chief in Bar Harbor since last November.

He has been an instructor for the Maine Criminal Justice Academy for many years. In May, he received a degree in rural public safety administration from the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]