CLINTON — The emotion was palpable at the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday night as the board opened it up to public comments pertaining to the town’s police department.
More than 50 residents and members from bordering towns were there, including Capt. Dan Davies for the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Department, a state police officer and Maeghan Maloney, the district attorney for Kennebec County.
The majority of attendees were in favor of keeping the local police department, with the most common criticism being the amount of tickets handed out and the types of violations people have been ticketed for, as well as questions about Police Chief Craig Johnson’s hiring practices.
Marjorie Goodwin, owner of Dick’s Market in Clinton, voiced her support for local police protection.
“I’m speaking as a resident, a home owner and a business owner in town and we need a dedicated police force,” Goodwin said.
Tuesday’s meeting was the first of three that will feature the police department conflict on the agenda.
“I’ve been an avid supporter of the police department, but I think a lot of the reason we’re here tonight is because lately, it’s been different. It’s been numerous, frivolous traffic stops,” said Jim Wilber, a resident of Clinton. “I’ve lived here 25 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. We just can’t afford that.”
“The police department is here to enforce the law,” said John Cummings, a resident of Clinton. “If the speed limit is 45, that’s not the police’s fault — they are there to enforce it. You can’t fault the police department because they’re out enforcing the law.”
Wilber said he supports the chief and he’s done a good job except in who he hires.
“He’s got some gung-ho people on the force that are making frivolous stops throughout town, parking at and tying up businesses, and it has to stop,” he said.
“We’re a police department that’s allowed to have three full-time officers,” Johnson said. “I work as the chief of police, a patrolman, a training officer and I’m the secretary. Most of the officers do what we can.
“It’s not an exact science,” Johnson said about the hiring process. “I do extensive background checks. I’ve raised the bar on hiring practices since I became the chief.”
Two more public hearings will be held with a focus on the police department, July 9 and July 23, before a special town meeting will be held on Aug. 13.
At the annual Town Meeting earlier this month, voters chose to reject the police budget of $197,954 and the department is running on last year’s budget of $198,044. The police department has been under scrutiny before, most recently in 2009 and 2010 when voters rejected the department twice before approving the budget on its final chance before getting dissolved.
Jesse Scardina — 861-9239