CLINTON — Criticism of how police officers treat the public was warranted, but the officers who caused the problems no longer work for the town and measures are being put in place to change how officers interact with the public, according to town officials.

Town Manager Warren Hatch said he and Chief of Police Craig Johnson continue to talk about necessary changes in the department’s attitude toward residents, although no formal complaints have been made to the town.

The majority of informal complaints have been against officers who are no longer with the department. Johnson said.

At the first two of three public hearings regarding the police department, some residents were vocal about treatment by the police that they said was disrespectful.

“They expressed the need for some changes, which I think in-house we’re already working on,” said Hatch, who has been the town manager since the end of December. “Three months ago, I first started looking at things that need to be improved or changed. I’ll sit down with the chief and come up with something that’s best for the community. We’re giving directions to the officers on how to better handle situations, mainly just make sure they have proper courtesy.”

The town has a formal complaint form that can be filled out. Hatch said he has received two complaints about the department since he started. But he said he’s heard most complaints through the rumor mill or second-hand.

“It’s basically based on some hearsay and on some suggestions from selectmen,” Hatch said. “Since I’ve been here, I haven’t had people call me for complaints. We want to hear directly from the person affected instead of from four or five people down the line who have heard this or that.”

Johnson said he “hadn’t been made aware of” many of the complaints that were coming up at the public hearings.

He added that he agreed the conduct of some officers was an issue in the past, but a reserve officer and two full-time officers who were the cause of most of the complaints no longer work for the town.

One of those officers was Scott Francis, who was terminated in April during his probationary year after he was charged with assault and domestic assault in late March. Johnson said that anyone can be let go during the probationary year for any reason.

“That’s why we have probationary periods,” he said, adding that it’s difficult to fully get to know how someone acts until you work with them. “I have zero tolerance for officers with vendettas. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but the integrity I have as chief of police — it’s totally unacceptable.”

An issue that may have to do with the lack of formal complaints is the belief that the town or police department will seek retribution against the complainers, but both Johnson and Hatch said that will not happen.

“We want to instill in people that they can call the chief or call the town with complaints,” Hatch said. “There will be no retribution for anyone complaining or reporting about police. That’s not the case.”

The hearings about the department were scheduled after voters rejected the department’s budget at town meeting in June. Residents will consider the budget again with a ballot vote on Tuesday, Aug. 13. It’s the second time in three years the town has come close to losing the department. In 2010 voters considered dissolving it, but agreed at Town Meeting to keep it after an appeal from county and state law enforcement.

County and state law enforcement officials who attended the first public hearing on the department June 25 said if the town dissolves its police department, it will stretch state and county law enforcement thin and delay response times. State and county police provide sole law enforcement for 21 of Kennebec County’s 30 municipalities.

This is a corrected version.

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239
[email protected]

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