CLINTON — A resident has started a petition to eliminate the Clinton Police Department in favor of having the Maine State Police patrol the community, but the town’s police chief argues there aren’t enough troopers to do the job.

Police Chief Stanley “Rusty” Bell said resident Jerome “Jerry” Blaisdell put the petition in motion about a month ago. The petitioners say the department is too large, costs too much and spends too much time helping out other communities.

Rusty Bell, Clinton police chief, stands for a portrait under a picture of Gerald Sylvester, the first police chief, in the doorway to his office on Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“They want to get rid of us because they believe the State Police can come in and do it for free,” Bell said.

While the state would provide the services for no cost, Bell argues that the State Police are understaffed and would not be able to adequately aid Clinton and that is one of the reasons the Clinton police have to help others out.

“We (Clinton Police) are sometimes dealing with calls out on the interstate, and you know why we do that?” Bell said. “Because the State Police are so shorthanded they can’t cover it, so we have to go out and deal with it. So if people think that bringing in the State Police is cheaper, maybe it is. But they wouldn’t be able to be stationed here all the time. They barely have enough people to handle the issues that happen on the interstate.”

The Clinton Police Department has three full-time officers, four part-time officers and a part-time chief. Its budget is $321,712 budget for 2019-2020.

In 2013 voters rejected the police department budget, but the most common concern selectmen said they heard from residents wasn’t about the budget, but about the number of traffic violations. Voters eventually passed a police budget.

Bell recalls a debate to oust the Police Department about five years ago. A contract to have the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office replace Clinton’s police department was considered. Bell said the contract was more expensive than the budget for Clinton’s Police Department at the time. The subject slowly died out.

In 2015 selectmen balked at reappointing the police chief, Craig Johnson. A couple of weeks before, voters had rejected the budget for the police.

Jerry Blaisdell, the man Bell said started the petition to rid the town of the police department, was unable to be reached, but his brother Rodney commented by phone.

“We’re trying to get rid of them,” Blaisdell said. “I don’t understand why we need so many officers … there’s state troopers in this town everyday … it’s a waste of our tax dollars. But what really ticks me off is when they go to rescue calls in another town. Why are they leaving? You see their cruisers in Benton and Fairfield more than you see them in Clinton.”

Bell explained why Clinton cruisers are often seen in other jurisdictions.

“When I first started working here, the selectmen said they wanted a police department that was professional and credible,” Bell said. “I think we have that because we’re being called to assist other agencies. Our officers are present at things like fire calls because they can assist in medical care, blocking off the roads and diffusing situations.”

Blaisdell also expressed his frustration with Bell himself for what he believes is the lack of time Bell spends in Clinton.

“Now I don’t have anything against Rusty, but how can you be a police chief if you’re never in town?” Blaisdell said.

Blaisdell was unable to confirm the number of signatures the petition has garnered, but said that “a lot of people” are unhappy with the Police Department.

However, Bell and local business owner Susan Powers, of Powers Auto Center, disagree.

“We appreciate and respect the Police Department,” Powers said. “They’re definitely needed in this town.”

Powers said that having the Police Department close by helps her business because they “keep an eye out” on the car lot and call her when anything looks suspicious.

“There’s 3,500 people in Clinton, and I’d guess about 3,000 would say we need a Police Department,” Bell said. “We get a tremendous amount of verbal support from the community.”

To Bell, education seems to be the factor that could help solve this conflict.

“We need to educate some people on the importance of having a police department because some people just don’t know,” he said.

Bell and Blaisdell were unable to confirm the number of signatures that would be needed to put the petition into action.

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