WILTON — During a candidate forum Monday morning, the challenger in the Franklin County sheriff’s race focused on a host of new ideas, many of which take advantage of emerging technologies, while the incumbent said he is running on a strong record of progress and crime clearance rates.

Republican challenger Scott Nichols, 51, and independent incumbent Sheriff Dennis Pike, 74, maintained a respectful tone as they highlighted their differences before a crowd of 70 at Calzolaio Pasta Co. in a forum hosted by the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.

They disagreed on how much oversight is needed for deputies, but also found areas of agreement, including that narcotics-related crimes are a growing concern for local law enforcement and that a full-service jail should be restored to the county.

“What we have right now is not working, or not working well,” Nichols said.

Many of Nichols’ responses to audience questions focused on new ideas and new technologies, including an electronic system for tracking the whereabouts of deputies, an anonymous texting service and an automated system that would scan the license plates of every car passing a patrol unit and alert officers to plates of interest.

Pike, meanwhile, pointed often to the record he has accumulated in 46 years of law enforcement, which includes a strong crime clearance rate for the sheriff’s office over the past five years. During his 12 years as sheriff he has added two of the agency’s three canine patrol units and added staff to allow for a supervisor during every shift.

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” he said.

Nichols, who is Carrabassett Valley’s police chief, proposes an electronic tracking system requiring deputies to physically register their locations at checkpoints while patrolling outlying communities.

Under the tracking system, which is in use by the Carrabassett Valley police department, the officer touches a metal wand to a disk embedded in a fixed location. Commanding officers can then print a report that documents the officer’s whereabouts.

Pike argued against implementing the system, which he said would take away from more important duties and undermine the level of trust between deputies and their commanding officers.

“I have a corporal on each shift as supervisor. It’s his job to make sure the deputies are working,” he said. “If I say, ‘I don’t trust you, I’m putting the wand in,’ what does that say?'”

He said it would be inadvisable to have deputies leave the scene of a major accident or crime scene to register at a checkpoint.

But Nichols responded, “It’s not about trust. It’s about verification. They may write down, ‘I visited this place’ when they really didn’t. We pay these guys to do a job.”

Nichols said the current system is not working.

“I’ve seen the patrols. It needs to be done,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

The tracking system costs the Carrabassett Valley police about $1,500 a year and would cost about $5,000 to implement on a county level, according to Nichols.

The candidates also disagreed on another plan Nichols has suggested in which command officers would patrol alongside deputies during periods of peak demand.

“We’re police officers,” he said. “We’re not there to shine the desk with our butts.”

Nichols said that such a move would be a show of solidarity that would improve officer morale, but Pike said it would be seen as a lack of confidence in deputies.

Pike also opposed it on the grounds that it would take needed time away from administrative functions.

“I suspect Chief Nichols has no concept of the reporting requirements that we have; they’re quite time-consuming,” he said.

Nichols said it would be part of a larger plan to prevent crime by increasing visibility in outlying areas that are less frequently visited by officers.

Nichols and Pike also disagreed on the value of educating young people on the dangers of drugs as an effective crime deterrent.

They discussed Drug Abuse Resistance Education, a federal program begun in 1983 in which law enforcement officers give classroom lessons on the dangers of drugs.

Pike said he felt the federal program was valuable both for its stated mission of educating children and because it improved overall relations between schools and law enforcement.

“When the program went away, I thought that was unfortunate,” he said. “I taught it for five years myself. It was a way of getting officers back in the schools in an affordable manner.”

Nichols said the program has proven to be ineffective.

“DARE does not work,” he said. “What does work is community involvement.”

One form of community involvement that Nichols said he would favor is a service in which anonymous tips sent by text are processed by a third-party company, making it impossible for police to track the tips to their sources. Nichols said the protection of the tipster’s identify would make people more comfortable providing valuable information.

One thing the candidates agreed on was the need to restore full services to the Franklin County Jail, which has been serving as a 72-hour holding facility since 2009.

Nichols said the state’s move to transfer away most of the jail’s services was “a travesty.”

Nichols and Pike expressed hope that the state Board of Corrections would be responsive after an analysis of the impact is compiled by the sheriff’s office in early 2013.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

[email protected]

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