Bob Bishop had been a Bangor police officer for about two years in the summer of 1986 when he faced what would be his toughest and largest lawbreaker — Dallas the bull.
Dallas weighed about 1,800 pounds and was 6 years old when he threw his rider during a rodeo show at the Bangor State Fair on July 30, 1986, according to archived newspaper reports. Then, the bull broke through a fence and raced up to the Bangor Municipal Golf Course where he chased golfers taking part in the Bangor Muni tournament around the second hole.
Wardens shot him with three tranquilizers darts, one of which was enough to bring down a bull moose, to no effect. Police, wardens and rodeo workers herded Dallas back toward Bass Park and the fairgrounds, but another six people were injured when spectators in the grandstand panicked as the bull ran toward the racetrack.
Bishop was credited with helping to bring down the angry animal with a 12-gauge shotgun. The incident apparently helped to seal the cop’s fate as a firearms instructor with the Bangor Police Department and at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro.
Bishop, 63, of Orrington retired earlier this month as a lieutenant after working in law enforcement for 40 years, 34 of them in the Queen City. As a tribute, Bangor named its indoor firing range “Bishop’s Alley.”
“Bob is a police officer. He will always be a police officer,” Police Chief Mark Hathaway said Friday in an email. “We are fortunate and forever thankful he chose to serve our community for 34 years.”
Bishop was born in Portland but grew up in Orrington. As a kid, he didn’t think about being a police officer. His eyes were on the sky, and he wanted to be an astronaut.
“I was involved in sports in high school and I think that people who do that gravitate toward more action-oriented jobs,” Bishop said recently of his long career. “I had done a couple of ride-alongs and was interested in it, so I took a two-year degree in criminal justice at the University of Southern Maine.”
That was where he met his future wife, Jane Ring, who also had roots in Orrington. Bishop’s first job after graduating was working as a part-time park ranger in Acadia National Park. He did ride-alongs with a more experienced officer for three days. Then, he was on his own.
“It was a law enforcement, ranger job but you learned on the fly,” Bishop said. “We didn’t really have any heinous crimes. It was a protection job; protecting the visitors to the park. You learned to use your power wisely.”
In the early 1980s, Bishop left the park service for the Ellsworth Police Department when he realized advancing in the federal job would mean moving around the country fairly often. Ellsworth sent him to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, then a 12-week program.
“Now, I had to evolve from being a park ranger to being a law enforcement officer,” he said. “I worked at lot of nights. We didn’t have a lot of backup.”
Bishop was one of more than 200 graduates of Maine’s police academy who, in the summer of 1984, took the written exam to join the Bangor Police Department. He was one of five officers hired by the city.
“My first few months here was an eye opener for a small-town cop” he said. “This was a busy place. When I first came here, Bangor had several big bars. It wasn’t unusual to hear on the radio, ‘All units proceed to such-and-such a place’ for a big fight. Units from all over the city would proceed to that call and we’d arrest who needed to be arrested.”
Bishop moved up to the rank of sergeant in 1992 and onto lieutenant in 2013. During his career in Bangor, he spent a lot of time as a firearms instructor in Bangor and at the academy.
On the night of Aug. 3, 1997, Bishop faced what few officers in Maine or the nation ever face — an armed man pointing a gun at him and his fellow officers. Bishop shot and killed Greg Baker, 27, of Bangor when the man came out of an apartment building at 71 Broadway across from John Bapst Memorial High School.
Three days later, before Baker’s funeral, the Maine Attorney General’s Office, tasked with investigating every officer’s use of his or her service weapon, announced the shooting was justified and Bishop had acted properly.
The investigation into the most recent officer shooting Oct. 16 on Grove Street in Bangor, in which a man was wounded, is not expected to be concluded until next year. Bishop said that he approves of lengthier investigations, some of which take more than a year.
“I think it’s smart to wait longer to look at every possible molecule of evidence but you pretty much know in the first half hour or hour whether it’s a good shoot,” he said. “I think it’s very good the way shooting investigation teams have evolved.”
Bishop declined to discuss how he dealt with killing Barker because his family still lives in the Bangor area. But he also said that one of his duties as a firearms instructor is to teach cadets and police officers about what to expect procedurally, physically and emotionally after a shooting.
“The mathematical probability is that just one of every 300 or 400 officers gets involved in a situation where they have to shoot someone,” Bishop said. “Normal people don’t want to kill anyone. It’s an abnormal action, and it is very tough to train normal police officers that this might happen to you. It’s important that police officers that have been through it mentor police officers that go through it.”
Bishop’s fellow officers had some accolades for him before he left Nov. 9.
“The thing which strikes you most about Lt. Bob Bishop is how he treats people,” Lt. Tim Cotton wrote on the Bangor Police Department’s Facebook page. “Bob is nice. And in a world where nice is commonly pushed to the wayback of the station wagon, Bob lets nice ride in the passenger seat.”
Amy McCrea became a Bangor officer the same time Bishop did in 1984. She now works as a victim-witness advocate in the Penobscot County district attorney’s office after serving in the federal marshal service.
“I remember Bob for his dry sense of humor and the easy-going way that he handled all situations,” she said Wednesday in an email. “He easily de-escalated a situation with a smile and a joke.”
In retirement, Bishop will continue to monitor his home weather station and study the constellations in the night sky. He remains concerned about where the next generation of police officers will come from.
The average number of applicants today is about half what it was when he applied to become an officer with the Bangor Police Department. Of 100 applicants who might apply at any given time, he said, 50 pass the written test. Just half of them pass the physical test. And once the background checks are complete, that number is down to 25. Out of the initial 100, five to 10 might be interviewed.
“We say that you have to be in shape once in your life to be a cop,” he said. “Once you get through the academy, you’re on probation for a year to see you if can fit in and can do the job.
“Can I tell the truth? Can I write a good report? Am I good with people? Am I a team player? Those are all important qualities, and that’s getting hard to find.”