Chief Peters: Ready to adjust to life after law enforcement

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AUBURN — Nelson Peters spent Tuesday erasing some of the last evidence from the Androscoggin County courthouse that he’d ever worked there.

He removed his nameplate from his desk and family photos from the walls. And someone else’s name — above the title “Chief Deputy” — decorated his office door.

“I’m almost gone,” he said, smiling.

Peters, 70, was ready to retire.

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“On Thursday morning, I will get up and not have a job to go to,” he said. “And that’s OK.”

For most of the past 40 years, Peters has served as a law enforcement officer. He has worked as a patrol officer, corrections officer, detective and, for the past three years, served as Androscoggin County’s chief deputy.

It will be an adjustment, said Peters, who plans to spend more time with Francine, his wife of 38 years, their sons and their four grandchildren.

“I’m going to slow down an awful lot,” he said. “The pressure is going to be gone.”

It will be harder to stop acting like cop.

“You don’t stop being a police officer,” he said. “You don’t stop thinking the way you’ve been trained to think.”

It took too many years to get this way, he said.

Peters, who grew up in Lewiston, started in law enforcement a little late. He planned to become a lawyer, like his dad and his brother. But after attending the University of Maine, he grew tired of school.

He went to work for a pair of insurance companies in the Boston area, but missed home. Finally, he wound up in Lewiston and began a 15-year run as a Lewiston police officer, starting in 1974.

Much of his time was spent breaking up fights in the downtown’s bottle clubs. And it eventually wore him down.

“Every storefront down there was either a bar or a club,” he said. “You went from one bar fight to another. When I started, they were just fist fights.

“It kept escalating,” he said. “When I left in 1988, you saw more and more where you took a knife from a guy or you took a gun from a guy.”

He switched careers.

He opened businesses: a garage, a restaurant and a used car dealership in the Sebago Lake area. But those, too, ran their course.

He returned to law enforcement in about 12 years ago, taking a job with the county as a school resource officer. He worked for a short time as a corrections officer in the county jail before becoming a detective.

Though he specialized in property crimes — taking a particular glee in solving burglaries — Peters also handled some sex crimes.

Some of the toughest ones — such as those in which children were victims — haunted him.

“I would wake up in the middle of the night with that on my mind,” he said. “How am I going to protect that little girl? Sometimes you can’t.”

He won’t miss that pressure in retirement.

Sheriff-elect Eric Samson and his choice for chief deputy, William Gagne, are scheduled to take their oaths of office Wednesday morning at the Androscoggin County Courthouse.

Peters won’t stop working altogether. He still owns the The Formal Image bridal shop in Lewiston and he’ll likely help his wife, whom everyone calls “Frankie,” a couple of days a week.

And though some people have asked him to run again for office — he served a term as a Lewiston city councilor — he said he has little interest.

Rather, he’ll adjust to life after law enforcement.

“It’s not going to be up to me to protect that little girl anymore,” he said. “Somebody else is going to be doing that job.”

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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