After more than three decades on the job, the man who has served as spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety heads into retirement on Tuesday.
Steve McCausland is the voice that has provided answers for the Maine State Police, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, often late at night, early in the morning and on weekends and holidays.
As McCausland told Maine Public’s Ed Morin, he had never served in law enforcement, but had worked in the news business when he took the job 32 years ago.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
McCausland: I had experience in all four of the media outlets in the state — radio; I shot film for Channel 6, so I had some TV background; the wire service, I covered the state for AP during Sundays, when they didn’t have full-time staffers; and I also covered local news for the Portland Press Herald under their Brunswick bureau for a number of years. So I had a little bit of experience in all four of those areas, I knew police because I’d covered them my entire broadcasting career and I thought, ‘I could do that job.’
Morin: And what is the job of the public safety spokesperson? I know that you get calls from reporters like me, and you provide answers to questions that we have, but there’s more to it than that.
Well, first and foremost, crime in this state makes news, and that’s not because people want to sensationalize or they’re curious, it’s because it affects people’s lives in this state. And so it is a big deal. And police agencies, particularly us, needed someone to be able to tell Maine what investigations we were launching, what cases we’ve solved. And unfortunately, the many, many tragedies that have taken place in my tenure here. And it’s important because that affects people’s lives in the state and they want to know what happened. And if somebody is responsible for those deaths, they want to know whether those people have been charged.
What challenges have you faced being the spokesperson for law enforcement when you yourself aren’t a police officer?
Well, I learned quickly of what could be said and what needed to be held back, particularly if it’s an ongoing investigation, there’s facts and information that I have that helps me talk about the story and what to release properly. But also, there’s investigative information that needs to be withheld, because we’re still looking to whoever is responsible for whatever crime we’re dealing with. So I learned very quickly that there was a line I had to walk, where I would probably not make either side happy. And my goal was to make both sides happy, to give the media at least the essence of what we were dealing with, but not give too much to confuse or disrupt the investigators on the other side of the fence that we’re trying to find out who’s responsible. I think I’ve walked that line pretty well over 32 years.
*What are some of the most memorable cases that that you will remember as you are in your retirement? *
The big one will be the disappearance of Ayla Reynolds, a little girl who disappeared nearly nine years ago from her Waterville home where she was staying with her father. State police have have spent thousands and thousands of hours on that case. It’s the largest criminal investigation ever launched for state police in Maine history. We will get the answer someday, it’s just I won’t be there to announce it. But the visual that I’m still stunned that I was there and saw it firsthand, was the explosion in Farmington last fall. When I got up to Farmington, about two hours after happened, there was still a cloud of dust over that section of the town. One fireman had been killed. Several other firefighters and Larry Lord, the maintenance supervisor, were terribly injured. And it’s a miracle anyone got out of that building, because it no longer stood. Within a second or two, it disappeared. And that was a stark reality. I’ve seen many, many scenes in my career — public safety and when I was a working newsman — and that scene, that day, I will remember the rest of my life.