I. The Need
During the late fall and early winter of 2002 a rash of burglaries, vandalism and arson struck the Town of Lamoine. The source was apparently two-fold in nature, and the parties allegedly involved have been arrested and charged, but tens of thousands of dollars in damage and lost property resulted before the arrests.
The Board of Selectmen reacted to the problem by holding a public meeting with the Hancock County Sheriff and his Chief Deputy in March, 2003. The following article was published in the Lamoine Quarterly following the meeting:
(Lamoine) — The first thing Sheriff Bill Clark told an audience gathered
to hear about crime prevention was that he was glad there were not a lot of
people there. He said that’s a sign that what crime problems have existed
have been effectively dealt with, and criminal activity doesn’t appear
to be a huge problem at the moment. Clark and Chief Deputy Richard Bishop appeared
at the request of Selectmen reacting to a crime spree that touched the town
in late 2002. Three teen-agers allegedly involved in that spree have been charged
with several crimes and await trial.
Sheriff Clark began by warning folks about crimes against the elderly. He said phone and home repair scams are a problem and urged people with elderly parents to keep an eye on what’s going on.
The new emergency 9-1-1 phone number was promoted. Many in attendance said they were unsure which number to call for non-emergency matters. The Sheriff said he would try to publicize that better. That number is 667-7575.
The group discussed the possibility of having a volunteer patrol force, similar to that used in the Town of Hancock. Sheriff Clark said that volunteer group has been very effective at deterring property crimes just by having a patrol car highly visible around town. He said he’s not sure if legally such a vehicle could run with lights and siren if volunteers don’t have police training.
The Sheriff said some basic crime prevention tips include locking homes, marking valuables, and taking an inventory of what people have in their home, and storing it in another location, such as a bank safe deposit box. He said that’s valuable in case of a fire or theft to make an insurance claim.
One member of the audience asked if there seems to be a big drug problem in Lamoine. The Sheriff said unlike neighboring Washington County, this part of Maine has not yet been overrun by drug related crimes. He said parents play a huge role in preventing drug crimes. He credited those parents who stay highly involved in their childrens’ lives with preventing drug use. He said an intact family is perhaps the best crime fighter.
Since the meeting, there was another wave of burglaries and some sporadic vandalism. Again, the Sheriff’s Department and State Police made arrests, but it renewed interest in seeing whether more could be done to prevent the problem.
II. Past History of Police In Lamoine
Lamoine has experience with its own police force in the past. It mainly involved citizens on patrol, generally in a voluntary capacity or as constables. Most of those patrolling had limited or no formal training as a police officer. The most recent records of a formal constable ended in the late 1980s when the town employed a resident constable. This constable briefly attended but never graduated from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and endured substantiated accusations from the board of Selectmen that he was improperly billing the town for work that was not performed. That essentially brought an end to the town’s formal police coverage as a municipal agency.
Several years ago, the Selectmen appointed a committee to study the public safety needs of the town. The committee recommended that some sort of police presence be encouraged, and suggested that patrol time be purchased from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, more in the summer than in the winter. The proposal went to the Selectmen and briefly started in the budget process, but the Budget Committee felt that the cost vs. the benefit of a few hours of patrol could not be effectively absorbed by the town’s taxpayers.
That leads us to the present round of discussions, and an idea that surfaced at the 2003 meeting with Sheriff Clark. It was asked if a volunteer police patrol might make sense. The Sheriff cited Hancock’s setup as a success story in crime deterrence. The Selectmen invited former chief and present Selectman Charles Wheeler of Hancock to discuss their program, which he did and which will be discussed shortly. Upon hearing about the Hancock program, the Selectmen felt it warranted further study, and reactivated the Public Safety Study Committee. All the former members indicated a willingness to serve, though two have not been able to attend the meetings yet. Jim Willis, Frank Murray and Stacey Curtis have been diligent in their attendance and given good input to the discussion. Member Grace Schimpf attended one meeting, but has since moved out of town.
The Selectmen and the Public Safety Study Committee (the committee) felt the cost/benefit of the various options the town could have should be explored. The best way to do this is to find out what’s being done in other similar sized and located communities in Hancock County. There are basically four programs to explore
A. Full Time Constable/Officers – Gouldsboro
B. Contract with Maine State Police for Resident Trooper – Tremont
C. Contract with Hancock County Sheriff’s Department – Blue Hill
D. Volunteer Patrol – Hancock
The other options are to continue with the coverage we have from the Sheriff’s Department and State Police which requires no action, or to establish a full time police department which is not feasible at this time.
A. Full Time Constable/Officer – Gouldsboro
We spoke with Town Manager Brad Vassey. The police department there consists of one full-time chief constable (Guy Wycoff), and six part time patrolmen. All are trained officers through the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, and they use a fully equipped and marked police cruiser. The budget for the department is $67,000 a year. While they have 24/7 coverage, it is not all active patrol. The part time officers are not paid benefits, but they are paid for their on duty time. Many are already police officers for other agencies. Mr. Vassey was interested in possibly sharing their services with Winter Harbor which just re-hired their police chief, Warren Ahrens. He might be interested in sharing services with Lamoine, though the geography is a bit awkward.
B. Contract with the Maine State Police for Resident Trooper – Tremont
We spoke with former Town Manager Mike Chammings about the option they’ve started in Tremont, apparently with good success. Mr. Chammings is currently the finance officer in Mt. Desert, but was the town manager when this program was put into place. This program costs approximately $75,000 a year, but a state trooper is there on patrol for 40-hours a week. He said the state police provide the trooper, the vehicle, insurance, dispatching, training and everything. He said they started with a part time trooper, and the program was so popular that it became a full time contract. He said he thinks it’s the best deal going.
C. Contract with Hancock County Sheriff’s Department – Blue Hill
Deputy Scott Kane works Blue Hill on active patrol at random times and for a random amount of hours. The town pays a contract to the Hancock County Commissioners for his services which are shared by several other communities through Deputy Kane’s position as the DARE officer (Lamoine is part of that program). His time is charged at $15.52 per hour. He comes with dispatching through the Hancock County RCC and with a Sheriff’s Department cruiser. The Sheriff’s Department says this is working fairly well and Blue Hill is pleased with the program, as they have more of a police presence. The county seems pleased in that it brings in revenue for an officer on patrol they normally would not be funding.
D. Volunteer Patrol – Hancock
As mentioned earlier, this option is the one the committee and Selectmen studied closely. The Town of Hancock provides relatively minimal funding for the volunteer patrol (The last town report we have from Hancock allocates $8,500 to the department and a cruiser fund). While they call themselves a police department, they are really a security patrol, with very strict limitations on what activities they can perform – both from a legal standpoint and from an insurance standpoint. Basically, the patrol functions in a team of two in a marked car, and are the eyes and ears for an appropriate law enforcement agency response. They can act as witnesses, but cannot make arrests, carry firearms, engage in traffic stops or pursuits, investigate accidents and the like. While the powers are limited, the perception is strong they are police officers, and apparently its an effective deterrent. The program has been in place for about 30-years and started as a result of a rash of burglaries.
Beyond the tax source from the town, the Hancock operation is also privately funded through donations. Volunteers are compensated for special assignments, such as traffic control for large events, but they are not compensated for the routine patrol. Former Chief Wheeler said the big key is screening the volunteers carefully.
IV. What’s the best option for Lamoine?
The survey conducted a few years ago concluded that residents then were willing to pay a little more in taxes for some active patrol. However, the Budget Committee concluded that a little more for very limited sporadic patrols from the Sheriff’s Department would not be money well spent. Therefore the idea to proceed with forming a volunteer patrol, and that’s the option the committee recommends that the Selectmen explore.
A. How to proceed
This idea should have broad town support, and therefore should go before town meeting. We recommend proceeding deliberately, and asking the town meeting the following question: “Shall the Selectmen explore whether it is feasible to form a volunteer security patrol supported by the Town?”. If this question passes, then the Board should ask the community members if they are willing to form a patrol, and if there is sufficient interest, to convene those willing to serve to draw up guidelines and a budget and then place a 2nd question before town meeting, something to the effect of “Shall the Town vote to support the Lamoine Volunteer Security Patrol”.
Such an effort to explore won’t require much of a budget. The question is should something go before the budget committee at this time, or can the town wait until a decision is solid on whether to sponsor such an activity. We recommend that a budget for this should be placed on the March 2004 town meeting warrant in order to get the ball rolling should there be support. The budget should reflect some anticipated start up costs, and liability insurance. If more is needed, then perhaps a budgetary item from undesignated fund balance could come at the 2nd vote. The initial start up budget should be approximately $4,000. This would cover liability insurance if needed ($3,000), and whatever other costs might be incurred in recruiting volunteers. If we don’t get to the point of getting a group going, this money would close back into surplus. Finally, it is recommended that the town pursue funding for such an endeavor through the Department of Homeland Security through a state administered grant.
C. Recruiting Effort
The key, presuming town meeting gives the go ahead to further explore the volunteer patrol option, will be in recruiting people to form such a patrol. We would recommend this committee remain active at least as long as it takes to sponsor an initial meeting. We also recommend a mass mailing to those on the voter list asking for interest to contact the town office. After a short waiting period to gauge interest, the initial meeting should be called from those expressing interest, and the ball could start rolling.
Should the town meeting grant approval to this concept, we recommend that the Selectmen well publicize then organize a meeting to attract volunteers for a volunteer patrol within a 2-month period. During the summer and fall of 2004, those volunteers should come up with an organization plan for the patrol, and have it ready to be activated no later than December 31, 2004. If such an organization is not formed by that time, the effort should not linger further and the idea be abandoned until another time.
We commend the Selectmen for continuing with efforts to make the town a safer and more secure place. At the same time we recognize that geographically, Lamoine is in a pretty good position with its proximity to Ellsworth and the headquarters for the Sheriff’s Department. We recognize that the Sheriff’s Department and State Police provide excellent service on complaints, but they do not routinely patrol the town, and that deterrent factor is what the town apparently desires. Crime will still happen, even with a patrol. The hope is that less crime will take place because the town has put the criminal community on notice that it is watching, and action will be taken.
Francis Murray, James Willis, Stacey Curtis, Grace Schimpf, Matthew Montgomery
The Lamoine Public Safety Study Committee