CLINTON — Rusty Bell, the town’s police chief for the past two months, doesn’t have set hours and never knows what he’ll be doing when he gets to work.

Instead, he does “whatever is necessary.”

Bell, who had been a sergeant, has been chief since Craig Johnson, who worked full-time, retired in late June. With Bell’s new title came department restructuring and a focus on reconnecting with the community.

“If I come in for four hours in the morning and there’s nothing to do, it doesn’t make sense,” Bell said. Instead, he comes in as needed to help with administrative work, but also to help with calls or incidents. This past week, he had answered 10 calls by Thursday afternoon.

“My focus will always be to supplement what (the officers) are doing,” he said. “In a small town, we really can’t have titles.”

Bell, of Benton, owns Yankee Communications in Clinton and Yankee Trophy and the Benton Family Fun Park in Benton, so he’s flexible. He’s also not taking benefits from the job.


The changes to the department “fall within the budget without trouble,” he said. The budget, approved on June 14, is $243,000.

There is money allocated for three full-time officers as well as some part-time hours. Right now, the police department is short-staffed, with two officers working full-time, although one is listed as part-time. The department is busy, and budget savings from the changes are being applied to overtime pay, Bell said.

He hopes to hire the part-time officer as full-time in November and then hire another full-time officer by 2017 so the department is fully staffed.

“Our goal is to cover the core hours of the day, so from 7 a.m. to about 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.,” he said. The Maine State Police cover the overnight hours.

The town averages about 7,000 calls for service to the state police, Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office and Clinton Police Department each year, which is high for a town of its size, Bell said. As of June 30, the department alone had received 3,500 calls for service.

“It’s gone up a lot,” Bell said.


Bell said he thinks the department should do fine with three full-time officers.

“We’ve never had an officer assigned to just the day shift,” he said. In the past, the chiefs would work day shifts while doing administrative work.

Once the department is fully staffed, Officer Karl Roy will work the day shift and two other officers will rotate the evening and night shifts, Bell said. The department will monitor how the new system works and see if changes need to be made.

In addition to restructuring the department, Bell is continuing efforts to shift the community’s perception.

The police department is coming off some rough years. Residents initially voted to not fund the department in 2009, 2013 and 2015, requiring multiple votes before a budget was passed. Last June, selectmen didn’t reappoint Johnson after a motion to do so failed to get a second, but they did appoint him at a July meeting.

Before the budget was approved in 2013, residents complained about a poor relationship between the department and the town at public hearings.


In March, a former officer began serving a 120-day jail sentence for income tax evasion and perjury. Scott Francis, 40, of Winslow, was previously fired in 2013 after he was arrested on charges of assault and domestic violence assault, both of which were dismissed because of insufficient evidence.

“It is totally a confidence issue,” Bell said of the town and department’s rocky relationship. He said he is not in a rush to hire a new officer, because he wants to build the department back up with “the right people,” saying it will save the department time in the end.

Bell also said he thinks communication is key.

After growing up in Benton and owning multiple businesses, he knows a lot of people in town, and he’s trying to get to know even more people in his new position.

When he was a sergeant, Bell initiated posting the police logs on the department’s Facebook page. With a staff decrease, they weren’t able to keep up with that practice anymore, but now they’re starting to do it again.

Starting in 2017, Bell also plans to send reports of business checks to businesses in town so they know the police department is looking out for them.


Business checks are when officers check on potentially suspicious activity near a business, like an open door or a running car.

Most of the time, it’s the owner or an employee who left the door open, Bell said. “But at least they know we’re around checking it.”

Madeline St. Amour – 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour


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