Kenneth Charles, chief of the Farmington Police Department, avoided getting into the family business for as long as he could but eventually joined his father and two brothers in becoming a police officer.
“I thought I certainly must have a different path,” he said. “I went into the service, came home and decided to go to college in Farmington. Originally from Waterville, Kenneth was so taken with the Farmington area that he stayed. At 32, he left his work in the public health care field and became a detective at Franklin County’s Sheriff’s Department, happy to have the opportunity to work where he lives. He was promoted to chief two years ago.
Chief Charles is committed to developing a mindset within his force that is less recriminatory and more rehabilitative in nature, particularly in matters involving substance use.
“We provide education and training to look at the problem in a different way than it has been,” he said. “I want to hire and employ officers who are going to seek out and earn people’s trust.”
Even when the force is shorthanded, the chief passes on candidates he doesn’t believe fit the culture the department is building – treating everyone with respect every time an officer interacts with an individual. Also, each officer carries naloxone at all times and is trained to use it.
Recently, his department encountered a situation in which a person in a bathtub experienced a substance-use-related cardiac arrest. “I was at the scene, and watched as one of the responding officers initiated CPR, got the individual out of the bathtub, and it was a successful revival,” said the chief. “This happened within a week of a first aid training we had. The officer had never experienced this in person before, and he was prepared. I was so proud of him. He had what he needed and was just making it happen.”
The chief also described a man he pulled over for driving while intoxicated several years ago. The man had been drinking a fifth of vodka every day for 20 years. “He came up to me a couple of months ago and said, ‘You have no idea what happened as a result of what you did that night.’ I prepared myself for him to say I ruined his life, but he said he connected with AA and has been sober ever since. You never know the impact you’ve had just by treating everyone with respect.”
The Farmington Police Department connects frequently with partner agencies and organizations. “Officers are pulled in so many directions, we can’t be the expert in everything. We cannot fix things by ourselves, but we can direct the people to resources,” he said. His department is the host agency for Franklin County OPTIONS Liaison Kat Beaumont.
“I can’t say enough about her. She came in like a great tornado. She is just the right person at the right time,” Kenneth said. “It’s been a pleasure watching her grow and develop the program.”
Even though the department is approaching things much differently now, Chief Charles also does not want to lose sight of primary prevention, breaking the cycles that often influence people to begin using drugs. “We won’t stop all the dealers, but we can do things to promote healthy families … opportunities for education and employment,” he said.
His advice to people who are using substances: “Don’t be afraid to communicate. Don’t be afraid to challenge your current thinking. Everyone’s individual experience is unique. Keep trying. Not many people go through this and find success and sobriety on the first try. Patience and vigilance can keep us closer to the end goal.”