After eight years, Orono’s police chief is set to leave the department in November, a change that has implications for the town’s entire public safety division.
During the Orono Town Council’s meeting Monday night, Town Manager Sophie Wilson announced that Josh Ewing — who has been the chief of Orono police since 2013 — has resigned his position to become a patrol officer with the Hampden Police Department. Ewing had been with the department for 22 years.
Rather than replace Ewing as chief, Wilson said the town will appoint a public safety director — Geoffrey Low, the current fire chief — to oversee both the police and fire departments and handle policymaking for the agencies. Those departments will have deputy chiefs to oversee day-to-day operations, the town manager said.
The changes come in part due to higher turnover among town staff with small, often unqualified pools of candidates available to replace them — a result of municipal employees working under “what has increasingly become a microscope trained on the staff,” Wilson said.
In addition, Wilson expressed frustration that a national climate dominated by calls for policing reform has translated into calls for undefined reforms at the local level.
“Being a police chief isn’t easy on a good day, though the satisfaction of shaping a department into a responsive and responsible team makes it worth it for the right person,” she said. “But it quickly becomes unfulfilling to lead in a community that is demanding unquantified change and reform of a department that is already an industry leader.”
Councilor Terry Greenier echoed Wilson’s frustrations.
“I’m sick about this. Public safety does get a bad rep and we lose people like the chief who mean so much,” Greenier said. “The town put the chief in this position and the town is going to have to deal with it.”
The public safety restructuring is meant to erect a buffer between day-to-day operations and policy development, Wilson said. It’s not clear whether it will be a temporary or permanent change, she said.
“The restructuring allows us to maintain stability, which is important when you’re trying to recruit people,” Wilson said.
Ewing’s last day will be Nov. 5.
Correction: An earlier version of this report mischaracterized Town Manager Sophie Wilson’s frustration. It involves calls for change in Orono, not nationally. The article also misspelled Fire Chief Geoffrey Low’s name.