Scott Nichols Sr. and Tom White, the two Republican candidates for Franklin County sheriff, recently answered questions about law enforcement issues facing the county.
The winner of the Tuesday, June 12, primary election will face incumbent Dennis Pike, who is unenrolled.
Q: What are the most important public safety issues in the county?
Scott Nichols Sr.: I believe that to be a noticeable lack of coordinated law enforcement.
We have a limited amount of officers to patrol a county that is larger than Rhode Island — this presents a problem.
We spend our time reacting to crime instead of working as a team in a proactive manner which stops crime before it occurs.
We need to increase the visibility of patrol officers without adding to current staffing levels.
Tom White: Today we are fighting an epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
The associated crimes of robbery and burglary have caused distress and concern for our citizens.
The trafficking of these drugs has also caused a spike in overdose deaths throughout the region.
This problem is consuming a generation of young people and we need to act now to stop the problem.
Q: What are your plans to address these issues?
Nichols: Use a computer system called patrol scan to improve patrol coverage in underserved areas.
Using the patrol system, deputies would be forced to travel into those areas on a regular basis to scan a data collection system that records the visit.
Install a “text a tip” program within the sheriffs office. With this program a concerned citizen can either text or email information regarding criminal activity in the county without fear of being found out.
Have the sheriff and other command staff patrol with field deputies during times where additional manpower is required, without added overtime costs.
Strengthen call-sharing agreement between the sheriff’s office and state police by forming teams of troopers and deputies working together in the north and south simultaneously.
White: My plan is to form a selective enforcement team to work on the (prescription drug abuse) problem exclusively.
Their assignment will be to search out the people responsible for the sale of these drugs to our youth.
Another component to this effort will be to build partnerships with the medical, rehabilitation, court and schools.
Being willing to change how we police today is a key to my promise of lowering our crime rate.
Our relationship with the educators, legislators, judicial and rehabilitation communities has been lacking and is critical to the success of this plan.
Q: Why are you running for sheriff?
Nichols: I want the sheriff’s office to focus on being more proactive in stopping crime rather than reactive.
In 1984, I joined the state police and my first assignment was Franklin County.
After 10 years of patrol I was promoted to detective and eventually a supervisor in the Criminal Investigation Division, investigating homicide and child abuse.
I was assigned to the Criminal Justice Academy as a cadre supervisor and was a member of the State Police Tactical Team for 14 years. I retired after reaching sergeant.
I then volunteered to go to Iraq and serve my country as an adviser to the Iraqi National Police.
In 2008, I became police chief in Carrabassett Valley. I’m responsible for not only police operations but also for Carrabassett Valley communications and the security operations of Sugarloaf Mountain, maintaining budgets for all.
I have the training, experience and fresh ideas to transform the sheriff’s office into the professional police force the citizens of Franklin County deserve.
White: I feel that my extensive experience and knowledge in local, national and international criminal issues establishes a foundation and the credentials necessary to effectively run this sheriff’s office.
Having worked both in the private and public sectors, I have realized that we can become much more effective, at no additional cost to the taxpayer, by changing some of our current policing methods.
Currently the majority of our resources is directed at uniformed patrol functions.
Having discussed this at length with local citizens, I have come to the conclusion that the people are more interested in having us direct more of our efforts in criminal matters.
I believe that with our available resources we can satisfy what the citizen wants from us and still maintain a uniformed presence in the communities we serve.
Q: What is your position on the proposed $598,300 project to build a new emergency 911 dispatch center for Franklin County, which goes before voters June 12?
Nichols: I believe that the proposed dispatch center is necessary and I have been part of the building committee behind the plan. Law enforcement and public safety have changed dramatically over the past decade and the dispatch center has not been kept up to date.
It does not meet any state or national standards for dispatch centers and it is overcrowded.
The new dispatch center will help assure the citizens of Franklin County that their emergency calls will be handled at a local Public Safety Answering Point rather than having that service done by the state, at a very significant increase in cost.
White: Voters will be asked to replace the current 911 Public Safety Answering Point located in a small room in the sheriff’s office building.
There are many problems with the current building and the need for additional space and better security is sorely needed.
The building committee did a wonderful job getting the cost down and this new building will improve the service provided by our dispatchers.
New 911 equipment will be available shortly and the need for space for that equipment is critical.
It is a difficult time to ask for funding but this is one of the most critical functions of public safety.
Q: What is your position on how state government should handle the future of the corrections operation in Franklin County and other counties statewide?
Editor’s note: There have been recent concerns raised about the changes to the county jail system in 2008. Along with other changes to jail budgeting, that’s when Franklin and Oxford counties’ jails were reduced to 72-hour holding facilities, forcing them to send their inmates to jails in nearby counties.
Nichols: I know the county would be much better off running its own facility, but the reality is we have to deal with the existing system established by the Legislature.
After attending Board of Corrections meetings, I formed these opinions:
The benefits of a coordinated county system were supposed to be the potential of decreased operational costs, improved working relationships between counties, consistency in finance and other directives and coordinated goals.
However, none of those things have occurred in the five years of its existence. The board realizes this so they have hired consultants to review the issues and recommended changes.
There has been no talk of overturning the current law and we will not be allowed to opt out of it.
It would take more than our own representatives fighting on our behalf; it would take the entire Maine Legislature to overturn this law and I don’t see the political will to do that.
We will have to work within the framework of the law to improve our operations and fight to have at least an inmate residency program where we could utilize prisoner services to the benefit of our municipalities, which simultaneously reduces prisoner jail sentences.
White: When the corrections bureau took over the county jail system, the citizens of Franklin County were paying $1.6 million to operate their facility. Our jail at that time was a full-service jail.
After the mission change, the Franklin County taxpayers have been required to continue funding the jail at the $1.6 million 2008 figure set by the corrections bureau. This figure has become the “cap” for our jail.
For the past four years we contributed $1.6 million to the consolidated system.
Last year our cost to operate the facility was just under $1 million.
The balance of $600,000, raised through county tax, was swept into the overall system to fund other jails or programs.
An example of one of those programs is that the corrections bureau is responsible for decisions on repairing jail buildings, despite county ownership of the building.
We are funding a corrections bureau system that is not prepared to operate 15 county jails efficiently. I believe it is time for the sheriffs and legislators to challenge the existing law and return to a county system that worked for 173 years here in Franklin County.
David F. Robinson — 861-9287