The most popular hangout in Bangor, Maine isn’t a restaurant or a bar. You can’t find it on a map.
But you can find it online. Bangor Police Department’s Facebook page has become must-read material for legions of fans across the country who log on for Sgt. Tim Cotton’s comedic musings on everything from his fellow officers to catching shoplifters at Kohl’s.
“Sir, we appreciate that you sent us this photo. Of course we are concerned. We asked the driver of Unit #22 if there had been any mishaps while on patrol today and he said there had been no trouble,” Cotton posted, along with a reader-submitted picture of a police car stuck in floodwaters. “We brought him into the office for a few more questions… His pants were not present but he was wearing a damp, dark blue Speedo and there was a snorkel in his gun belt.”
Since Cotton took control of the Facebook page in the spring of 2014, it has racked up more than 72,000 likes, more than double the population of Bangor.
“Never been to Maine, but I love this police department!” LaToya Griffin posted on the department’s page.
“This is one of my favorite pages,” wrote Jeannine Golpe.
Cotton said he was “blown away” by the reaction to the page. “Things have been horrible nationwide. Maybe I came in to write this page at the right time and it allowed somebody to grasp something positive about police.”
Cotton, a 52-year-old native “Mainer” who loves the Onion and MAD magazine, said the Facebook page was initially a leap after 13 years as a detective.
“You learn as you go. I’m not exactly a social media magnate here,” he said.
Cotton, a 27-year career cop, decided to draw on his sense of humor and hope he didn’t burn any bridges.
“I think humor is the universal language,” he said.
He proposed funny to his chief as an alternative to the typically stodgy fare put out by other departments. He got the okay with the caveat that he not mention religion or politics.
And so it began.
Posted with a picture of officers in full SWAT gear training on a playground, Cotton wrote:
“They conquered the swing set next. I refuse to show you what happens when there are three SWAT members and only two swings… The officers then went to Jimmy’s house to play Xbox.”
By far, the Bangor PD’s biggest Internet star isn’t Cotton himself, but his de facto sidekick – a preserved and stuffed American wood duck he saved from the district attorney’s trash bin several years ago.
He started sneaking the duck into photos, just to see if people would notice. They did – in a big way. Dubbed the Duck of Justice, or DOJ, the duck brings in five to ten visitors a week and once attracted a carload of tourists off a cruise ship that knew about the duck from reading the department’s Facebook page.
“I thought, hey we’ll use this for a little while, it’ll be funny,” Cotton said. “Now people demand the duck, they want pictures with the duck.”
Cotton also routinely requests tips on suspected criminals, many of them wanted for theft. It’s Bangor’s biggest crime problem, fueled by sizable population of opiate addicts.
In the case of a person who stole the donation jar at the Bangor Public Library, he wrote:
“From this point on, this person will be referred to as a thieving miscreant or, TM. The jar was for future improvements and projects at the library. Have you no shame?”
“It’s a little therapeutic in a way,” Cotton said of his Facebook duties.
It’s therapeutic for the community as well.
“I am from Bangor and am so proud to have such a wonderful police department!” Sirena St Ours posted on the department’s page. “Thanks for connecting with the community in this way.”
Cotton is well aware of the animosity toward police officers, even in a bucolic town like Bangor, which saw a few protests in the wake of police shootings in other parts of the country, but nothing that rose to the level of destruction seen in places like Ferguson or Baltimore.
“They don’t like what we represent,” Cotton said. ” ….At least 50 percent of the people you deal with don’t want you there.”
“Firemen, you’re putting a house fire out. Of course they love you. I mean, you can do no wrong with a hose,” he said. “But when a cop shows up, things have already leveled off at ‘Suck.’ ”
But when he sees video of police going too far, “our innards cringe just like everyone else ….cops don’t want that.”
Det. Reggie Miller, president of the Nashville chapter of the National Black Police Association and retired after more than two decades with the Metro Nashville Police Department, has seen more than his fair share of racial tension between cops and the community.
In 1992, while working undercover, Miller was beaten by several uniformed officers after being pulled over for an expired license tag. His department instituted diversity training after the incident. “A lot of the community people spoke out.”
While Miller applauds Bangor’s work at community outreach, he questioned whether humor is the best medicine in violent communities.
“In areas where you have a history of shootings,” he said, “humor, I don’t think, is what they are looking for.”
“The community is looking for safety, they are looking for protection, they are looking for an investment into my community to resolve crime.”
But Miller said Bangor was smart for trying something new.
“If the community knows that they have a good relationship with their police department, almost anything can work,” he said.
Cotton is the first to concede that what works for his town, won’t work everywhere.
“You gotta come up with your own thing,” he said. “I just think you just have to present it in the right light and be careful.”
For Cotton, that means making sure the community knows that cops do care about the people they protect, so people know the department’s Facebook presence is created in good faith. To that end, he signs off nearly every post with the same phrase: “The men and women of the Bangor Police Department will be here.”
Want more inspiring news and ideas to improve your life? Sign up for the Saturday Inspired Life newsletter.
If you liked this story on Inspired Life, you may also enjoy: