SABATTUS — Hired fresh out of college, John Dalbec spent almost 30 years on the force at the Cumberland Police Department, 25 of them in local schools, eventually becoming the department’s first school resource officer.
He retired in late June, saying goodbye to Cumberland, and soon, to his house in Old Orchard.
Next up, a whole lot of hellos.
On Monday, he becomes the department’s first school resource officer for Sabattus.
“My wife said, ‘Go do what you do best,'” Dalbec, 51, said.
For the first time this year, the town and Regional School Unit 4 combined funds to create the new position. Superintendent Andrew Carlton said the time was right and with his dynamic, outgoing personality, Dalbec was the right one for it.
“Given all that’s going on in this world and given all that’s going on in schools today, what we really want to do is provide as many resources as we possibly can for students to feel safe,” Carlton said. “And safety is a twofold thing: Obviously, there’s the security piece of that, but there’s also the emotional and community safety as well.”
Carlton anticipates Dalbec will work on truancy, community outreach with parents and help students “feel safe within the building with regards to things like drugs and alcohol.” He’ll work primarily at Oak Hill High School in Wales, but also spend time in all of the district’s schools.
Dalbec said he likes to meet and greet students each morning and keep an open-door policy for stopping by to talk or join him for lunch.
“Students are great, kids are great, and when they’re given an opportunity to be great, they get it,” he said.
Dalbec grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Maine at 15, playing football and hockey in high school. After Dalbec graduated from Chevrus High School, his father encouraged him to go into the trades.
“Sitting in the first class (for) heating and air conditioning, actually, a guy comes over and goes: ‘You don’t belong here. This probably isn’t going to be your best fit.’ I said, ‘OK, where can I go?’ The guy said, ‘What are you good at?’ Well, I said, ‘I’m good with people,'” Dalbec remembered.
The instructor suggested criminal justice. Dalbec got a job as campus security, followed by corrections work for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department.
Not long after graduation, the town of Cumberland was hiring. He could not take the job until he turned 21.
“I had to wait four days,” Dalbec said. “Twenty-one came and I got hired, I worked, I went to the police academy and I retired last week.”
Much of his career there was spent in the halls of SAD 51 in Cumberland and North Yarmouth. He taught D.A.R.E. classes, started a role model program and coached a mix of boys and girls sports — football, baseball, softball, lacrosse, hockey.
“When it comes to academics, you’ve got to be able to read, write and do arithmetic, and for me those things were challenges,” Dalbec said. “I pride myself on making sure academics aren’t something any kid ever has to worry about because there’s always someone that can teach you to read, there’s always someone that can teach you to swing a hammer, there’s always someone to teach you to tie your shoes, to tell time.
“These are all extremely important things for young people, because if you can’t do it, you feel like you’re being left behind.”
Students can carry a lot of anxiety around school and tests, he said, and it “isn’t always a fun, safe place.” He would listen, offer advice or try to connect students to internships, if they had an aptitude for something they would like to pursue.
“The biggest part of my day is being present in people’s lives,” Dalbec said. “It’s what you do for others that really counts.”
When tragedies like the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, strike, Dalbec said it is also his job to run to the danger.
“My first responsibility during my training in Cumberland is I go,” he said. “I am the first person to get where you need to go. You go to gunfire. You do not wait. You get in attack and you’re aggressive. You’re forward and there’s no second thoughts about yourself. It’s about everybody else.”
Dalbec said his changing position in Cumberland coincided with the decision to retire and the new opening here. His wife, Jen, was supportive of the move. The couple have two grown daughters and plan to buy a house locally soon.
“I wanted to be part of the fabric here,” he said. “You can’t do that from Old Orchard.”
In the summer months, Dalbec will be a traditional officer within the Sabattus Police Department. He is interested in exploring ways to be active with the recreation department and create summer programming.
“I’m excited for the fall,” he said. “I try to keep my sunshine up.”