Police face staffing challenge

Published: Jan. 15, 2021 at 7:02 PM EST
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Staffing continues to be a concern for police departments throughout Aroostook County. Kathy McCarty speaks with local police chiefs about the problems their agencies are facing, in the first segment of a series on the issues facing police in The County.

When fully staffed, the Fort Kent Police Department includes the chief and four officers. Chief Tom Pelletier says in the past year, he’s lost his sergeant to retirement, and two other officers sought employment elsewhere. He currently has two officers who need to attend the Police Academy for certification.

“I use them in a very limited status. There’s a lot of things, major crimes, that they can’t - they can respond to but they can’t follow up and conduct major investigations. Something as - as - as daily as a - a, uh, a personal injury accident, uh, a car accident they can’t do. It needs to be done by a - a criminal justice academy graduate,” says Chief Tom Pelletier, of the Fort Kent Police Department.

That duty falls to Pelletier, the only Police Academy graduate currently on the force. He anticipates adding another officer next week. Cyr Martin, Chief of the Ashland and Washburn police departments, says Ashland is fully staffed with a full-time sergeant, a full-time officer who is awaiting the academy, and a part-time officer. Washburn has two full-time, a sergeant and an officer. Martin says this makes for rigid scheduling and no allowances for someone to be out.

“With Covid, they’re stressed right out, of course. And with the, you know, constant bad image that police are - are dealing with, with things that have happened in other places in the United States. It also affects us here in rural communities, where they second-guess themselves - if you want to call it - and - and that gets them very nervous, so it is a rough time right now,” says Chief Cyr Martin, of the Ashland and Washburn police departments.

Houlton is experiencing similar problems, with more than half a dozen officers waiting to attend the academy. Houlton Chief Tim DeLuca says being in a remote part of the state, weather, lower pay than elsewhere, and smaller departments make recruiting a challenge. But he sees current views of policing as the biggest deterrent.

“I think a lot of the root cause of it is the anti-police rhetoric that’s happening out there in - in the U.S., and even though we’ve been fairly blessed here in the state of Maine, because we have more support than most states, but there’s still - there’s still that underlying tone throughout the country. I think because of that, a lot of people are kind of shying away from this profession,” says Chief Tim DeLuca, of the Houlton Police Department.

KM - Pelletier says departments throughout Aroostook County, including Fort Kent’s, continue to try to fill vacancies and welcome inquiries about employment. Kathy McCarty, NewsSource 8

Tuesday Kathy will have part two of her series where she will focus on other issues facing County law enforcement.

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