FAIRFIELD — Residents of Fairfield will have a chance to talk about how to best improve the town’s Police Department during a public forum Thursday evening.

The forum is one part of an ongoing audit of the town’s police by the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, which the town hired  to help develop a blueprint for the department’s future.

The Town Council approved a $6,000 expenditure to pay for the top-to-bottom review, which one former councilor said is not a good use of money raised from local taxpayers.

This week, three experienced police chiefs from other departments will conduct interviews and review documentation as they look for ways to improve the department.

Town Manager Josh Reny said the team will produce a report this summer that will give suggestions on factors including the recruitment and hiring process, community relations, budget, department morale, crime statistics, training, department policies and operational equipment.

The team, which consists of chiefs Jack Peck, of Farmington, Robert Gregoire, of Augusta, and Brad Paul, of Saco, will gather public comments at 7 p.m. Thursday at the community center.

Reny said the review was initiated based on the advice of Acting Chief Joseph Massey, who is overseeing Fairfield’s police force while maintaining his position as Waterville’s police chief.

Now is an ideal time to conduct the review, Reny said, because the town is hiring a new permanent chief, who would benefit from advice on how to best manage the department.

The top spot at the police station was vacated by former Chief John Emery, who went on an unexpected leave of absence beginning Dec. 26. Two days before he went on leave, police responded to a call about a “mental subject,” a police term, on Skowhegan’s Palmer Road, where Emery lives.

Skowhegan police would not confirm whether Emery was involved in that call.

Emery formally resigned March 1, at which time the town contracted with Waterville to provide administrative services for the department for $4,000 per month, which is being paid from a police reserve account.

A search committee for the town is interviewing candidates for the position, and town leaders hope to hire someone by the end of the month.

Don Giroux, who served on the Town Council for decades before his most recent term expired last year, called the audit “an absolute waste of taxpayer’s money.”

Giroux said a new police chief should move the department forward based on his own beliefs and direction from the council.

“He should be able to determine for himself what the town knows coming in,” Giroux said. He also said chiefs from larger communities would not be qualified to make wise recommendations for a town of Fairfield’s size.

Farmington’s population is about 7,800, similar to Fairfield’s roughly 6,700. There are about 19,000 people each in Augusta and Saco.

Reny said the audit is a tool for a new police chief to use, not a mandate.

“Most organizations aren’t perfect, but most organizations are striving for perfection, and this is a tool that’s going to assist our department and the new chief to make some possible improvements,” he said.

Robert Schwartz, executive director of the association, recommends that police departments undergo the process at least once every five years. In addition to Fairfield, the association has conducted reviews in Herman and Eastport so far this year. Two audits were done in 2012.

The association includes nearly all of the 120 police departments in the state, as well as 14 of 16 sheriff’s departments.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
[email protected]

 

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