FARMINGTON — Police Chief Jack Peck said he hopes to staff his department fully for the first time in four years, after getting the town’s approval to hire two new officers.

Selectmen unanimously approved Peck’s request to offer jobs to two potential officers, after a lengthy discussion at the board meeting Tuesday evening.

Peck said he already has made a conditional employment offer to one candidate and plans to make an offer to the second one.

The department has found it hard for years to retain officers. The last time the it operated with a full staff of 14 officers was for two weeks in December 2009, according to Peck.

When understaffed, the Police Department’s ability to enforce the law is limited, he said. He also said officer morale decreases as overtime increases, which could continue to feed the department’s high turnover.

This year speeding tickets and warnings are down by around 30 percent and burglaries are up 111 percent, Peck said.

“Guys get tired. When you work a lot of overtime, your body just wears down, and that shows in our numbers,” he said.

He said the department has spent $61,000 on overtime this year and is on pace to spend $122,000 by the year’s end, even though the department is budgeted to spend only $83,000 on overtime.

Peck said next year his department is also required by law to send three of his officers to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy for 18 weeks of basic training.

“That’s going to take it’s toll on everyone when these guys are gone for basically 54 weeks,” Peck said.

With a full staff, he said, the department can be more proactive. He said he hopes to resume having a patrol officer on a bicycle and hosting a regular Citizens Police Academy.

“Right now we’re being reactive and not proactive,” he said.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Department and the Maine State Police help the Farmington police with their duties, but Peck said the other agencies also have stretched their staffs thinly.

For example, last week Peck said Sheriff Scott Nichols and Chief Deputy Lowell helped Peck and Deputy Chief Shane Cote at the scene of a car accident involving injuries on Wilton Road because all other Farmington and county patrol officers were busy.

“A lot of time, I’ll only have one person on duty,” Peck said.

Town Manager Richard Davis spoke in support of hiring the new officers and said he regularly sees reckless driving on Wilton Road, one of the town’s busiest roads, because the police do not have the manpower to patrol it.

“They do it because they know they can get away with it, because there is not an officer patrolling that road on a regular basis,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
[email protected]

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