AUBURN — When Phil Crowell, the city’s longtime police chief, addressed a crowd gathered to honor his retirement Friday, he admitted he was emotional about leaving the department.
He was minutes away from receiving his final retirement send off or “ride out,” saluted by others in law enforcement, and he knew it would be bittersweet.
But he said many people, including his wife, had been quick to remind him of his next move — right back to Auburn Hall.
“She just said, ‘You’re just coming back to work on Monday,’ and I’m looking forward to Monday, I really am,” he said.
Crowell was speaking to a room of more than 100 government officials, members of law enforcement, friends and family Friday as he retired after 25 years with the Auburn Police Department.
Many, including U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, praised Crowell’s continued focus on community policing, and local officials said they are hopeful he can bring that same mentality to the city manager’s office.
Earlier this month, City Manager Peter Crichton announced he had appointed Crowell the new assistant city manager in Auburn. Crichton said Friday it seemed “meant to be” that Crowell would make the leap to city administration.
He said when he initially talked to Crowell about the job opening, Crowell told him he had already been thinking about it.
“I’m expecting us to go to a higher level here,” Crichton told the audience Friday. “This might be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Crowell, a lifelong resident of Auburn, joined the city’s police force in 1993, and worked his way to chief in 2006.
He began his law enforcement career in 1986 as a military police officer in the U.S. Army. Prior to being named Auburn’s chief, he served as a patrol officer, school resource officer, detective and deputy chief.
In his 12 years as chief, Crowell has put emphasis on combating human trafficking and the opioid crisis, while spearheading other initiatives, including a Citizens’ Police Academy and the first Somali Citizens’ Police Academy.
He’s served on human trafficking initiatives locally and internationally, including as a board member on the Foundation for Hope and Grace, co-founder of the Not Here Justice in Action Network, and member of the Maine Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Task Force.
Crowell also started the Auburn Police Activities League, or PAL Center, a community center run by police and volunteers as an after-school program for Auburn youth.
His impact in Auburn was apparent Friday by looking around the room. There were elected officials, school administrators and police staff, but there were also community volunteers and staff from local health organizations.
Mamie Anthoine Ney, director of the Auburn Public Library, said she was not surprised there were so many people there.
“He’s so good,” she said.
Sen. Collins said Crowell’s leadership style gives the public confidence in local law enforcement.
“I’m so proud of the work he’s done to reach out to everybody in this community,” she said. “When you see other cities in the United States where there is this estrangement between police officers — those who defend us — and the population, I think that shows what a difference good leadership makes. Auburn has been very lucky to have you chief.”
Deputy Chief Jason Moen, who will become interim chief Monday, said that when the pair started in police administration 12 years ago, the department “was in need of change.”
“Today, the accolades that you hear and the reputation the department has in the state and across the country is Phil’s No. 1 accomplishment,” Moen said.
Crowell has also received numerous awards.
In 2017, he was named Chief of the Year by the Maine Chiefs of Police Association. Prior to that, he was given an Excellence in Aging Award by the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging for his efforts in implementing a Silver Alert system in Maine, among other accolades.
Gifts, mostly flags, also rained down on him Friday. Both Collins and Congressman Bruce Poliquin gave him American flags that had flown over the U.S. Capitol.
When asked Friday, Crowell said he is most proud of his work to establish the PAL Center, saying it has grown to hosting more than 100 children some days, as well as his years of pushing for legislation to protect vulnerable people.
In November 2007, Auburn became one of only two accredited police agencies in the state, and in November 2013, the department was the first law enforcement agency in the state to participate in the Gold Standard accreditation process.
Crowell will fill a $97,000-a-year vacancy created when Denise Clavette left the position in June for a job in Saco. Clavette left less than a year after accepting the job in Auburn.
Crowell said one of his first projects as assistant city manager will be working on the strategic planning process, and overseeing departmental changes with the Norway Savings Bank Arena and Recreation Department.
“We have a lot of potential, a lot of growth, that will be coming toward the city,” he said.
Despite the fanfare and attention Friday, Crowell said he feels lucky to be in this position.
“I really feel blessed,” he said. “I’m a local Auburn kid who’s been given some opportunities. I grew up here, graduated from (Edward Little). To be part of this community and to continue being able to serve the community, it’s a great opportunity.”
Retired Auburn Police Chief Phil Crowell walks out of the Auburn Police Department for the last time as chief during an end-of-service ceremony on Friday morning. Crowell is retiring after 25 years with the Auburn Police Department. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Retired Auburn Police Chief Phil Crowell shakes hands with each police officer during an end-of-service ceremony in the courtyard of the Auburn Police Department on Friday morning. Crowell is retiring after 25 years with the Auburn Police Department. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Retired Auburn Police Chief Phil Crowell’s children, Jonah and Megan, attend the end-of-service ceremony for their father on Friday morning. Megan Crowell is a dispatcher for the Lewiston/Auburn 911 Emergency Communications System and made the final radio call to her retiring father. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Jen Crowell sheds a tear during the end-of-service ceremony for her husband, Phil Crowell, who retired from the Auburn Police Department after 25 years of service. Norm Guerette, center, worked as a police officer for 37 years and retired from the Auburn Police Department in 1995. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Retired Auburn Police Chief Phil Crowell, back center, gathers with members of the Auburn Police Department during an end-of-service ceremony at Auburn City Hall on Friday morning. Crowell is retiring after 25 years with the Auburn Police Department. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)