The police chief in Pittsfield was on the receiving end last month of a no-confidence vote taken by the department’s four full-time police officers.

And while the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties and the Somerset County sheriff have come to Chief Harold “Pete” Bickmore’s defense, the town manager and other town leaders have been silent on the matter as it makes its way to the Maine Labor Relations Board.

Chief Harold “Pete” Bickmore of the Pittsfield Police Department has been the target of a no-confidence vote by the department’s four full-time officers.

The March 27 vote against Bickmore was taken due to concerns about his performance and ability to manage the Police Department, according to the Maine Association of Police, the bargaining agent for the department’s union — the Pittsfield Police Association.

The 16 complaints cited in a prepared statement from the Maine Association of Police include allegations of misconduct, poor working relationships and violations of Maine labor laws.

Bickmore’s lawyer, John Richardson, said the criticisms of Bickmore from the four full-time officers are disproportionate and fabricated.

The police officers’ association said the concerns regarding Bickmore were brought to the attention of the town in January 2019 and again in August 2019.

In September 2019, the town hired an outside investigator to evaluate the chief’s performance.

In November 2019, the Howard Consulting & Investigative Group of Massachusetts found the union’s claims to be unsubstantiated and blamed the “hostile environment” in the department on the union members.

“There is a ‘hostile environment’ within the Pittsfield Police Department. This situation has been caused by members of the union,” the report from Howard Consulting reads. “Their dislike of Chief Bickmore has risen to the level that they openly ignore the chief and have made unsupported allegations against him. These actions have made the climate within the police department unhealthy.”

Thomas Howard, the lead investigator, called for town leaders to take immediate action to resolve the escalating issues within the department.

Richardson said that has not happened.

Town Manager Kathryn Ruth could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The report from Howard Consulting also documents how union members admitted to having created a pact where either “the chief goes, or they leave.”

The results of this investigation prompted the union to hold the vote of no confidence, according to the Maine Association of Police.

In January, the association filed a prohibited practice complaint with the Maine Labor Relations Board, alleging Bickmore had violated labor laws on two occasions.

In the official complaint to the board, the association alleged Bickmore violated labor law in 2018 during the hiring process for a school resource officer when he awarded the position to a part-time reserve officer.

According to the complaint, the union’s collective bargaining agreement required the position only be offered to a full-time officer.

The second violation was the alleged retaliation against two officers who complained about Bickmore to town officials in January 2019.

“The Chief has retaliated against at least two of the officers involved in making complaints against him in the manner in which he has pursued alleged disciplinary cases against them,” the complaint reads.

“Regarding one of those officers, an outside agency reviewed the allegations and determined they were not warranting of discipline, however, in spite of that, the chief pursued them nonetheless, this time with a different outside agency.”

The association also alleges Bickmore has refused to provide the union with documentation relating to that incident.

The town denied that the actions Bickmore took against the two officers were retaliatory.

Nevertheless, it was announced last week that the Maine Labor Relations Board. would move forward with a hearing on the complaint. That hearing has yet to be scheduled.

The association also alleges that Bickmore:

• Has had multiple verbal altercations with the town manager and on one occasion “cornered her against a wall and poked his finger in her chest.”

• Has tried to get the Pittsfield Police Association to cease its relationship with its bargaining agent and join a rival, which is run by a “close personal friend of his.”

• Attempted to discuss the pending grievance regarding the school resource officer position with some full-time officers, outside of the presence of the registered bargaining agent, which violates Maine labor law.

• Permitted a department secretary, who is not a sworn officer, to operate police cruisers by herself in 2019.

• Approved submission of incorrect time cards that overstated the amount of hours the school resource officer worked, although the Town Office picked up the mistakes and corrected them.

• Mishandled two incidents involving impaired drivers, and used a food scale at a convenience store to weigh seized jars of marijuana in February 2018.

• Was the subject of a harassment complaint by a female worker who was cleaning the police station.

• Has publicly stated he could “make an innocent person look guilty.”

• Is frequently not within reasonable driving distance of Pittsfield. He is also a part-time officer in Scarborough.

•  Pulled his service weapon out of his holster at the town transfer station in 2018 and pretended he was going to club one of the town employees over the head with it.

The most recent complaint alleges the chief was working while presenting symptoms that are consistent with the coronavirus but refused to leave or get tested.

While Bickmore eventually agreed to a test, he returned to work but did not follow appropriate social distancing with colleagues while he awaited the results of his test.

“The vote was the culmination of the last year and a half of frustration and lack of response,” said Paul Gaspar, executive director for the Maine Association of Police. “And here we are, in a chaotic environment because of the coronavirus, and for the chief to exhibit poor judgement, it was just the bridge that took it too far.

“The officers’ number one priority is to serve the people of Pittsfield. This (vote) is kind of a distraction they didn’t want at this point because they want to focus on serving their community.” 

In its response to the prohibited practice complaint, town officials admitted to the union’s allegation that the relationship between the chief and his officers has become contentious since Bickmore was hired in October 2017,

Bickmore began his career in police work in 1980 as a reserve officer in Scarborough. He went on to serve as the head of the FBI’s domestic terrorism unit for 26 years, before retiring in 2013.

He served briefly as the police chief in Ellsworth before being hired in Pittsfield.

In a telephone call Tuesday afternoon, Richardson called the criticisms of Bickmore from the four full-time officers falsehoods.

“There are five part-time officers, who outnumber the full-time officers who took the vote, who are in complete support of the chief,” Richardson said. “The most disturbing part of that report, besides the falsehoods and fabrications, is the admission to the investigator that they conspired against Chief Bickmore.” 

Gaspar said the officers were never conspiring against Bickmore.

I think what’s significant is that the board has found enough sufficient facts to go forward with a hearing,” Gaspar said. “That pretty much shows that we’re not just disgruntled workers or are somehow gunning for Chief Bickmore.

Richardson said Town Manager Kathryn Ruth has been “strangely silent” since the town’s investigation into Bickmore ended.

Gaspar said he agreed.

“Its almost been a week and a half since the vote and we haven’t had any contact from the town or the town council to even express their concern,” Gaspar said. 

There has been an outpouring of support for Bickford from public officials, including Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, and Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster, according to Richardson.

“The fact is that this department was underperforming when the chief was hired,” Richardson said. “The chief was bringing in standard practices to bring up performances, and they have been resistant to any kind of professionalism the chief is trying to implement.” 

Richardson said he and Bickmore are now calling for the Pittsfield Town Council to meet with Howard to discuss his findings on Bickmore to better gauge the situation.

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