WATERVILLE — Mayor Karen Heck and some city councilors on Tuesday argued that the city needs at least one more police officer.

The Police Department, which has 30 officers, deals with a lot of mental health cases, sex offenders and people addicted to heroin and other drugs, they said. They added that police go frequently to hospitals and colleges, which do not pay taxes.

Councilors Eliza Mathias, D-Ward 6, and Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, said that the city’s elimination of the full-time South End police officer position makes that area of the city more vulnerable to crime.

“I, personally, support an additional officer for the South End,” Mathias said. “I think you would see crime decrease and I think you would get a real return on your investment with a decrease in crime.”

Officer Alan Main is a school resource officer who spends 1 1/2 hours on one afternoon per week at the South End Teen Center, according to Jackie Dupont, co-chairman of the South End Neighborhood Association. The city really needs to restore a full-time South End police officer position, she and others argued.

Rancourt-Thomas said a full-time South End officer gets to know the people and gain their trust and helps steer children away from getting involved in crime.

“If you can prevent it, if you can educate at a young age, it makes a difference,” she said.

Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, said he wants to see statistics showing that having a full-time officer in the South End helps decrease crime and is an investment.

“I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t know if it really pans out in dollars and cents,” he said.

Dupont said a Colby College class is gathering those statistics.

Mayor Karen Heck argued that restoring the position would be beneficial.

“Prevention is usually cheaper,” she said.

An entry-level officer’s wages and benefits would be $54,557, according to police Chief Joseph Massey.

He said police officers called to a hospital might spend as little as 20 minutes there or hours or days.

“One officer just spent 36 hours at Inland Hospital,” he said.

Typically, he said, police respond to deal with someone suffering from mental health problems and the hospitals can not find a bed for the patient.

Heck said she met with hospital and college officials to discuss how those entities can help offset costs for police calls.

“We called them in, and I asked them to think about ways they might be able to contribute,” she said.

She said hospitals call police more than colleges do, and both contribute to the community in other ways.

Massey said large, unexpected events could require police to put in overtime. Officers also could be injured and require sick time, he said.

Heck asked him whether the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce pays for police presence at the annual Taste of Greater Waterville. Massey said it pays some money.

“Honestly, I think they should,” Heck said. “They make a lot of money. They’re going to make a lot of money.”

She said after the discussion that she thinks the city really could use two more police officers, “but I think we have to have one more.”

Councilors reviewed the police budget Tuesday as part of the city’s development of a proposed $ 17.1 million municipal budget for 2013-14. The police budget makes up more than $3 million of that budget.

The proposed school and municipal budget is $37.3 million.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
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