WILTON – Community. For Police Chief Heidi Wilcox, that comes first.
Over the course of her career, some of her favorite experiences have revolved around kids and seniors in the communities she serves. Making positive, healthy connections with the most vulnerable people she meets has been a fundamental part of her work.
“For me, that’s my main mission. And then you have to take care of all the fluff in between.”
Wilcox has worked in public safety since high school, when she became a volunteer firefighter and served alongside her father. She went on to work part-time for Sabattus Police, then as a dispatcher, corrections officer, and a patrol deputy in Androscoggin County, becoming one of the first female patrol deputies to serve on that force.
Moving closer to home, she served with Jay Police as a dispatcher, patrol officer, and detective, then as a patrol deputy with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.
She tries to bring something positive to each and every call, no matter what that call involves.
When her son was born, she shifted gears from being on the road to an administrative role. She took the position as the chief of police in Wilton, a role she has filled for the last eleven years.
Now, after 35 years in law enforcement, she’s taking a step back.
“It’s time,” she said of her upcoming retirement. “I feel like I’ve done what I can do here, and it’s time for new leadership.”
While she isn’t on the streets as much, the job still requires a lot of night shifts and weekends at the office. Wilcox wants to be at home more for her son, who is starting middle school. She feels it’s time to focus more on her own family.
Moving forward, Wilcox will be working for the State of Maine in the Support, Enforcement, and Recovery division at Department of Health and Human Services. It’s more of a desk job, but still allows her to help people. “I want to continue looking out for kids and for families,” she said.
The last few years have been challenging around the world, and it has been no different in the Franklin County area. Wilcox has seen increases in domestic violence throughout the pandemic, along with increased rates of mental health challenges and emergencies.
The community is tired, Wilcox said. The isolation, separation, and increased stress over the last few years has taken a toll.
“It’s unnerving what it has left us,” she said.
Wilcox said that Wilton Police is fortunate to have Western Maine Behavioral Health located in town. They have crisis counselors who can respond to assist with mental health and behavioral emergencies, which helps bring a positive outcome for all involved.
Despite the challenges that may be ahead, she feels good about the upcoming change, saying that her officers are well trained and ready to step up. Wilton has a department of six full-time officers and several part-time officers, who provide 24/7 coverage for the town. The department is fully staffed now; Wilcox says the select board has supported steps to provide competitive pay, which helps with officer retention.
The Trunk-Or-Treat event in Wilton, hosted by the town and by Wilton Public Safety, has been one of her pet projects. She works closely with the Wilton Fire Department to put the event together every Halloween.
Safety is important: beyond closing down roads and monitoring the event, Wilcox also screens participating businesses and community members to make sure the event is safe and kid-friendly.
She pushed her retirement out past Halloween so she could hold one last Trunk-or-Treat for the kids. “I want to leave after I see all those kids and community together,” she said.
Creating positive, wholesome experiences for kids benefits the adults in the community as well, by giving them a common goal and something enjoyable to focus on.
“There’s a lot that all of us can do for our community,” Wilcox said. “As long as we have each other’s backs and look out for each other, we’ll be okay.”