CLINTON — Town manager Earla Haggerty and Police Chief Stanley “Rusty” Bell released an informational memo via email to more than 300 residents this week in response to a petition aimed at getting rid of the town’s police department, a petition that one of its backers said Thursday had failed.

The petition was started in July by a handful of residents who want to do away with the police department because, according to them, it’s too large, too expensive and spends too much time assisting other agencies.

“We’re trying to get rid of them,” Rodney Blaisdell said in a phone interview Aug. 29. “I don’t understand why we need so many officers … There’s state troopers in this town every day … 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.”

Tensions over Clinton maintaining a police department stretch back many years. Residents have circulated petitions in the past and debated measures to strip funding from the department in 2013, but previous efforts have not resulted in the local agency ever disbanding. In 2010, voters approved a police budget after rejecting the department’s budget twice in 2009.

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

In a phone call on Thursday, Rodney Blaisdell said that the petition didn’t get enough signatures within its allotted time frame, but that his brother, Jerome “Jerry” Blaisdell, who initiated the original petition, mentioned he intended to file another petition soon.

Jerry Blaisdell said Thursday he will restart the petition.

In order to eliminate the police department, Haggerty said Thursday that the Board of Selectmen would have to revise the town charter and remove Section 4.01 (a) that defines its existence.

“As long as it’s in the charter, we have to have a police department,” Haggerty said.

Oncoming traffic passes as Clinton police Officer Erik Maheu patrols Thursday in Clinton. Maheu was working two areas for speeders Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

After petitioners started gathering signatures, Haggerty and Bell felt it was necessary to speak out against the criticism because “to let the accusations stand without protest jeopardizes public safety and law enforcement protection for all the citizens of Clinton,” according to the memo emailed to the 300 residents.

Haggerty and Bell compiled data from Clinton’s 2018 law enforcement incident log, provided by the City of Waterville’s dispatch, in the hope of educating residents on the value of police department work.

“And because effective policing methods are not always highly visible, it’s easy to conclude there is very little criminal activity in our town,” the memo says. “In fact, some would have you believe Clinton is so quiet and pristine as to not even need a police presence. However, before you add your name to a petition to eliminate the Clinton Police Department, perhaps you should give careful consideration to the policing statistics that three full-time and four part-time officers handled during 2018.”

According to the memo, 9,716 incidents were recorded in the log last year. Of that, 1,716 or about 18% were motor vehicle violations. The document indicates that 1,493 of those stops were to give warnings. Only 224 tickets were handed out.

“There were so few tickets written because really all the officers want is for people to slow down or fix their tail lights,” Haggerty said. “We know these tickets come out of the pockets of our citizens.”

Among other motor vehicle related incidents, there were 92 crashes involving property damage or personal injury and 42 stops involved drugs or alcohol.

“Keeping our roadways safe and free from drunk drivers is taken seriously and is a critical part of community policing,” the memo said.

In 2018, Fire and Rescue reported 450 medical incidents in town, 210 of which involved support from police officers.

“The reason the police department is so important at these calls is not only traffic control and scene support, but the quickest response time is critical when life is hanging in the balance,” the memo said.

The log recorded 98 incidents of domestic violence and abuse, assault, aggravated assault, threatening and family disturbances in 2018 and an additional 11 incidents of sexual misconduct, two of which involved the rape of an adult.

In 2018 114 incidents of burglary, theft, larceny, fraud or forgery, shoplifting, mischief and arson were listed. Aside from the criminal cases, the Clinton Police Department performed 28 residential house checks at the request of vacationing residents and daily property checks for 11 businesses.

“There are so many more statistics to be shared supporting the benefits of having a local police presence that will quickly come to our aid when we call,” the memo said. “Sometimes it’s not about crime but assistance, like 911 calls for motorist assistance, assisting in the search for 8 missing persons, or making well-being checks on the elderly or mental health cases.”

The memo also dove into the issue of officers assisting other agencies, which Bell said is the complaint he and Haggerty hear most often.

Clinton Police Chief Stan “Rusty” Bell flips through papers including warnings for speeding Thursday as officer Erik Maheu, right, resumes his patrol at the police station in Clinton. Maheu was working two areas for speeders Thursday. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

“The Board of Selectmen, the governing body of the town, have approved mutual aid agreements with area police departments in surrounding communities that obligates Clinton officers to respond to emergency requests for aid and assistance,” the memo said. “The petitioners also fail to mention that the 400 square foot space the CPD currently occupies does not allow for critical and mandated law enforcement procedures and Winslow and Fairfield PD’s are generous enough to provide those services to Clinton at no charge. Clinton travels to Waterville for court, Augusta for the District Attorney’s office, jail and all lab testings at the State Police Crime Lab. Conducting business as a police department no longer means staying in Clinton and not crossing the town line.”

The fact that Clinton’s officers are called to assist other agencies displays how qualified and essential the Clinton department is, according to Haggerty.

“We’ve come a long way from years prior, and the quality of our officers shows because we’re being called to help other agencies,” Haggerty said.

Petitioners suggested calling in State Police to patrol the town instead of the town police, but according to Haggerty and Bell’s assessment, this would have an adverse impact on public safety.

“Petitioners may favor coverage by the Maine State Police (MSP), but the truth is community policing policies of assisting motorists and well-being checks are all incidents the Maine State Police are not going to be available for, and most of the above criminal activity mentioned will not have a short response time but rather will be serviced on a first come first serve basis,” the memo said.

Haggerty and Bell emphasized the importance of community policing.

“The goal of community policing is to create a partnership between the department and the community,” Bell said. “We want to invest in the lives of our residents when they have emergencies and work with businesses to help keep what is important to them safe.”

“Another important aspect with our focus on community policing is the interaction the officers have with the youth,” Haggerty said. “I think it’s really healthy and beneficial for young people to be able to see police officers as their friends and not their enemies.”

Bell said the petition and general backlash toward the police department makes it harder for them to continue focusing on community policing.

“(The backlash) is hard on recruiting,” Bell said. “We have a great group, but with the backlash it’s hard to find people who want to come work here and stay here.”

Most of all, Haggerty and Bell said they wanted the memo to bring attention to how involved the police department is in the day-to-day life of Clinton residents and how eliminating the department would be “a great detriment to the quality of life in the town of Clinton.”

“It all comes down to public safety, and our police department has such value … We have a really amazing team,” Haggerty said.


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