Brian Crater has been coming to northern Somerset County with his family ever since he was 10 years old.

Since the beginning of this month, Crater, 32, a deputy with the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, also gets to live and work in the part of Maine that has been his family’s annual vacation spot.

Crater became the lone patrol deputy July 1 for a vast rural area that includes 83 unorganized townships — about two-thirds of the county.

Response times to remote locations will be quicker and a police presence in an area roughly 70 miles north of the county seat in Skowhegan was important, Sheriff Dale Lancaster said.

And the cost of a rural patrol deputy — fully equipped four-wheel-drive truck, wages, benefits, guns, Taser, uniforms, computers, phones — is paid by the state, not directly by Somerset County residents. Lancaster is the first county sheriff in Maine to secure such an agreement with the Office of the State Auditor, which oversees the unorganized territory in the state and signs off on service contracts for the areas, which have no municipal governments.

“It’s a great opportunity that we were able to take advantage of and provide additional protection and a law enforcement presence to the people in northern Somerset County,” Lancaster said. “It’s been a goal of mine since taking office, to fill the lack of consistent police presence.”

Lancaster said he put in a contract for the deputy position, and it was approved.

Marcia McInnis, fiscal administrator of the unorganized territory with the Office of the State Auditor, said Lancaster’s is the first such request her office has received.

“I don’t know of another similar situation,” McInnis said in an email to the Morning Sentinel. “The counties are required to send me copies of any contracts for service and I do not have any other contracts for dedicated UT patrol positions.”

Lancaster said he got the plan moving by meeting with Somerset County Commissioner Lloyd Trafton, a former game warden who lives in West Forks; and later, with McInnis at the state auditor’s office in Augusta. He said the state has a $23 million unorganized township budget for fire service and some road service, and he thought he could tap into that account for police services.

“My question was, why were police services not covered in that budget?” Lancaster said. “I learned that it was and I was the first sheriff to ever approach them about this.”

Lancaster said he proposed a $160,000 spending package, including startup costs for a rural deputy, from the state unorganized township budget; and it was approved. He said the annual cost for the position will be in the neighborhood of $90,000 to $95,000 a year.

Since he started two weeks ago, Crater has responded to 50 calls for service, including nine burglaries. He has arrested two drunken drivers and a man on an alleged violation of a protection order connected to domestic violence.

Crater, a married father of two children, is stationed in Jackman. He said he wants to be part of the Somerset County community and one of the problem-solvers of the community.

“I’m excited,” Crater said of his new job. “It’s a community that I’ve wanted to be a part of for a long time, and it’s the job I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Now I have the opportunity to do the job I want to do in the place I want to do it.”

NO GOOD WAY

The sheriff’s office had nine full-time road deputies and five more contracted deputies in its Madison division. Crater became the office’s 10th patrol deputy.

“Having spoken to business leaders and citizens in northern Somerset County, I saw a lack of consistent police presence; and when they did call, there was a lag in the response time,” Lancaster said.

Sometimes, Crater said, “there is no good way to get” to the site of a call in the county’s most far-flung territories. Much of it is logging roads or unimproved private roads that snake their way through the woods. Many of those private roads were washed out by flash floods after a heavy rainstorm two weeks ago, making public safety access even tougher.

There are property crimes in the area, Crater said, with a lot of burglaries at remote camps, assaults, complaints about trespassing and incidences of domestic violence.

“There’s been times we had to go through Canada to get to some places,” Crater said.

Ray Levesque, the third-generation owner of Bishop’s Store on Main Street in Jackman, said he welcomes the new deputy to the area. He said there are drugs in Jackman and domestic violence, just like anywhere else.

“I’m extremely happy to have a full-time officer here. We’ve gone many years without one,” Levesque said. “Thanks go out to Sheriff Lancaster. I had met with him before he took office and told him we were very upset in this community because we didn’t have any law enforcement up here, and we’ve been paying county taxes for many years without getting any benefit of the sheriff’s office.”

Levesque said going without a law enforcement officer in Jackman for so long led people to not bother to report suspicious activity or property crimes, speeders and drunken drivers. Now, he said, he urges people to call 911 in the Jackman area if they need assistance.

“When an emergency happens, it’s nice to have an officer at the scene quickly,” he said.

Joe Christopher, a volunteer firefighter and owner of Three Rivers Whitewater Rafting and The Inn by the River, both on U.S. Route 201 in The Forks, said a full-time patrol deputy in that part of the county is reassuring.

“As far as the sheriff being up here, it’s always good to have the assistance nearby,” Christopher said. “Usually when there’s an automobile accident, we have to wait a long time. In the event of an emergency, it’s good to have the support. When there is a problem, it usually takes a long time to get people here.”

Lancaster said the sheriff’s office answered about 500 calls for service in 2015 in the area, which unofficially starts at the Moscow/Caratunk town line, about one-third of the way up the county, and is bordered on the north by Canada and Aroostook County. The coverage area is 40 miles wide and 138 miles long, or roughly 4,000 square miles in all, Lancaster said.

The borders of Somerset County in the more populated southern areas include Kennebec County to the south, at the Fairfield town line with Waterville; and Piscataquis and Penobscot counties to the east.

Before July 1, when calls were taken at the regional communications center in Skowhegan, a deputy was dispatched to the scene from the southern part of the county.

‘MAKES A LOT OF SENSE’

Almost half of neighboring Franklin County, the part north of Route 142, is remote. Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols said he likes the idea of getting a rural patrol without directly taxing local residents.

“I am going to look into it. Quite frankly, I had never considered it before I heard about Somerset’s efforts,” Nichols said of the arrangement with the state. “It makes a lot of sense to have a deputy dedicated strictly to the UT areas. It is those areas that often see a greater amount of property crime and burglaries because of their isolation.”

Excluding towns such as Eustis, Kingfield, Carrabassett Valley and Rangeley, Nichols said there are 26 towns that represent almost half the land mass north of the Route 142 dividing line, amounting to more than 9 million acres, where mostly seasonal camps are common. The area in Franklin County also has 378 miles of summer roads and 569 miles of winter roads, he said.

Lancaster said Crater, who just graduated from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro, is a good fit for the job.

“You not only have to have a person that’s academy-trained, but you also need to have someone who is willing to live in the northern regions of the county,” he said. “So Deputy Crater was the perfect fit. He has just graduated from the academy, so he’s a fully trained, certified police officer in Maine; and he wants to reside in northern Somerset County.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter:@Doug_Harlow