CLINTON — The crowd wasn’t as big as at a previous hearing, but residents still had plenty to say about its police department, both good and bad, Tuesday night.

“If we go without a police department, there will be more people complaining than there is now,” said David Wodard. “We’re fortunate.”

“Our town has had enough of poor police officers who are not qualified,” said Barbara Richards, who also said officers have accused her of lying in the past.

“I’ve lived in towns without a police force — this is a blessing,” said Gail Kelley, who moved to Clinton about six years ago. “I’ve lived in towns where I’ve been afraid. I’m not afraid anymore.”

About 30 residents attended the public hearing — less than the roughly 50 that showed up for the June 25 public hearing — which grew tense and rambunctious at times. A number of residents were criticized for interrupting others and being rude, including selectman Randy Clark, who said he was just trying to maintain order during Tuesday’s meeting.

“All you want to do is vent and make accusations,” said selectmen Chairman Jeffrey Towne, directing it toward the audience. “This is not productive.”

The discussion focused on differences in local police presence compared to coverage the town would receive from the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office and the Maine State Police. Sgt. Peter Michaud was in attendance, representing the state police.

“With how state police set up rural patrol, there could be a delay in arriving to a call if you’re used to a local force,” Michaud said. “Calls go into a priority list and we may have a trooper at your door in five minutes or it may take 45 minutes to an hour. It depends on the nature of the call and its level of priority.”

Another criticism directed toward Clinton police and Chief Craig Johnson — who was in attendance — was the way officers treated its residents.

“The way I’ve been treated in the past year — I’ve never been treated like this,” said resident Debbie Henry. “We were shooting off fireworks and an officer came to our house. My husband tried to ask a few questions and the officer threatened to take him to jail.”

“The chief and I are working on ways to be more community-friendly,” said Town Manager Warren Hatch. “We’ve been working on improving performance and to show that the officers are there to help people.”

“There’s bad apples in every profession,” said Margie Decker, Clinton resident since 1989 and owner of Decker Hill Counseling Center. “If you’re respectful to someone, they’re usually respectful to you. I think it’s critical we have a police department here.”

Tuesday’s public hearing was the second of three scheduled hearings in Clinton to discuss the police department, which had its budget rejected at the June 11 Town Meeting.

The third public hearing will take place on July 23 at the beginning of the selectmen’s meeting.

Voters will have another opportunity to approve the budget — which is about $1,000 less than what the department is currently operating on — at a special town meeting on Aug. 13 in a referendum style vote. If a rejection takes place, voters will then decide at the following June’s Town Meeting whether to dissolve the department and rely on state police and sheriff’s department coverage.

Clinton residents have flirted with the removal of a local police department before, most recently in 2010, when voters approved a police budget after rejecting the department’s budget twice in 2009.

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239
[email protected]

 

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