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Citing a shortage of officers, Van Buren Police Department temporarily closes

Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 7:01 PM EST
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VAN BUREN, Maine (WAGM) -

A lack of qualified candidates is putting a strain on local, County and state police agencies. In our continuing police series, Kathy McCarty has more on how the closure of the Van Buren Police Department is impacting both the Sheriff’s Office and State Police.

Due to a major staffing shortage, the Van Buren Police Department is down to one full-time officer, and temporarily closed its doors since December 6th. That’s according to Sgt. Luke Dyer.

“The Van Buren Police ultimately had to shut down daily operations and turn our calls over to the State Police and Sheriff’s Office. Thankfully they’re providing prompt, professional service to our community in our absence. We have sought new officers through several outlets, without success,” says Sgt. Luke Dyer, of the Van Buren Police Department.

Sheriff Shawn Gillen says his deputies have responded to over a hundred Van Buren calls since the department closed last month. He says this creates a tremendous strain for his office and the State Police, with deputies and troopers having to cover their regular coverage area, and respond to calls once handled by Van Buren officers.

“It puts a burden on us, you know. Instead of being proactive, we’re being reactive. We’re only chasing calls, and we don’t have time to dig into the - to the crimes that we should be digging into. I mean, we’re rural patrol, we’re not town patrol and, you know, people, you know - and I don’t blame the people in these towns. They get accustomed to - to being able to call the PD and take care of some of these problems. I mean, now when they call, they may have to wait, you know, a half an hour, or maybe an hour. I mean, it really depends on what - what the emergency is,” says Sheriff Shawn Gillen, of the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office.

Like the Sheriff’s Office, Lt. Brian Harris says State Police are set up for rural patrol in areas without their own police department. When a smaller department is short-staffed, assisting agencies find it to be a bit of a juggling act, as they work to fill the void.

“When that happens and we have to step in, I don’t have - it’s not like a Walmart where you call in an extra worker come to work. It’s - if we have that expanded territory, we still work with what we have. If I have, you know, five guys working that day and we’re picking up the Van Buren, I still only have the five guys working that day, except one of those guys has now gone from being busy to being very busy,” says Lt. Brian Harris, of Troop F, Maine State Police.

Lt. Harris says it can impact the services provided by the State Police and Sheriff’s Office. Both organizations have to prioritize calls when call volume goes up, causing the services they provide people to suffer as a result. Kathy McCarty, NewsSource 8

Sgt. Dyer says he’s received only a few applications for employment with the Van Buren Police Department and continues to look for ways to fill vacancies. He did not indicate when the department would be open again. We’ll have more in our continuing police series on Wednesday.

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