On Wednesday, more than 43 years after first becoming a patrolman with the Bar Harbor Police Department, Lt. James Pinkham worked his final shift for the town.
James Willis, the department’s chief, was 13 years old when Pinkham began his career on July 4, 1978, and many of the department’s current officers hadn’t yet been born. Willis said Pinkham’s calm demeanor and empathetic approach — which isn’t always easy to teach to young recruits — has helped set an example for the rest of the department for decades.
“He’s so community based,” Willis said. “Everyone knows him, and he has a real common-sense way with people.”
At times over the years, the chief said, local police have responded to seemingly volatile situations in which someone was acting out. Rather than having a group of officers subdue the person, Pinkham has simply walked up to the person and calmed him down.
“He’ll say to the other officers ‘I’ve known him for 40 years, let me go talk to him,’” Willis said. “He can de-escalate anything.”
Pinkham said he tried to treat members of the public the same way he would want his mother to be treated — with respect.
“Everybody has bad days, but they’re not bad people,” Pinkham said. “I’ve never had to draw my gun.”
Pinkham, who grew up on Mount Desert Island, said his parents instilled a strong work ethic in him at an early age, which may help to explain his longevity with the department. He rose through the ranks, at various times serving as training officer, patrol supervisor and even as interim chief — and put in plenty of long hours.
Pinkham noted that he missed some personal events in the lives of his family and friends because of the time he spent on the job. In retirement, he wants to travel more and to spend more time with his granddaughters, one of whom just graduated from MDI High School and another who is just 3 years old.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “I’m going to miss the people I’ve worked with, who have always been there for me.”
Not every call he responded to has involved potential criminal behavior, he said. He once was the first person to respond to a medical call at an apartment on Main Street, and found himself alone with a young mother about to give birth.
He reassured her for a couple of minutes, but moved aside when emergency medical technicians arrived and then helped her deliver her baby.
“She wanted to name the child after me,” Pinkham said with a laugh, adding that the baby was a girl. “I told her I wasn’t sure that was a good idea. That would be difficult for the child growing up.”
On Wednesday, when people gathered outside the local police station to show Pinkham their gratitude, he teared up when Willis presented him with a display box of Bar Harbor Police Department patches and a desk clock. A minute or so later when he sat in his cruiser and made his last call over the radio, he teared up again. A video of the moment is posted on the department’s Facebook page.
The day before, the Bar Harbor Town Council unanimously approved a resolution thanking Pinkham for his years of service. The resolution noted that during a stretch of more than 30 years, Pinkham never took a sick day off from work.
“Jimmy is known for his calm demeanor, helping to assess a situation and come up with a resolution that is fair and helpful to all parties involved whenever possible,” the resolution reads. “Jimmy has gone above and beyond to assist, comfort and counsel those in need, on both a personal and professional level.”
Councilor Val Peacock, a former assistant harbormaster for the town, said Pinkham mentored her when she had to take law enforcement training as part of that job.
“He’s such a human being in every situation,” she said. “At times when people are struggling, Jimmy can see that and always saw that.”