Maine is still not taking full advantage of its “yellow flag” law to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who are a threat to themselves or others, according to a panel that reviews police shootings in the state.

But officials have finally put a telehealth system in place that could change that.

The Maine Deadly Force Review Panel published its annual report this week and again called for more connections between police and mental health service agencies.

The 15-member panel has reviewed 20 shootings by police since its creation in 2019. Twelve resulted in deaths. In every case, the person involved was a white male, often living in a rural and isolated area, and known in the community to be violent. Three-quarters were experiencing mental health crises, and all had a weapon at hand. Others had a history of substance use and domestic violence.

“When we’re looking at the use of deadly force in the state of Maine, the themes are consistent across all the reviews that have been done now for many years,” said Francine Garland Stark, co-chair of the deadly force panel and executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

The most recent report includes a number of recommendations, including more training in the use of less-lethal weapons and a common records management system.


“What we have been recommending in all of our reports is really an increased collaboration between our law enforcement and people that are providing services across all those issues of mental health treatment, substance use disorder treatment, domestic violence intervention,” Garland Stark said.

The Office of the Maine Attorney General already reviews each police shooting to determine if it was legally justified – and in every case in modern times, the office has found that police acted within the law. But that process does not ask why shootings occur or what forces aligned to bring a person into a deadly conflict with police.

The review panel aims to fill in those gaps. Its mandate is to report on how the state can enhance the safety of the public and police officers.

Its annual report also pointed to Maine’s yellow flag law as an area for improvement. Unlike other states with similar laws, Maine requires a medical practitioner to sign off on the request to confiscate weapons.

That provision was key to broad legislative support for the bill in 2019 and has been touted by Maine politicians, but police said for more than two years they were often unable to use the law because the state didn’t have a system to conduct evaluations remotely. Hospitals were reluctant to perform the required assessment in person in part because they feared retaliation from the individual.

The panel acknowledged that struggle in its latest report and pushed for more telehealth options, which finally became available in October.


After announcing they had begun the process last year, the Department of Health and Human Services contracted with Spurwink, a nonprofit behavioral health provider that operates a crisis center in Portland. Police can now call a phone number 24/7 to reach a nurse practitioner who will do a remote assessment.

Between July 2020 when the yellow flag law took effect and October 2022, police took 27 people into protective custody to initiate the yellow flag process, the attorney general’s office said. In the four months since Spurwink came on board, police have used the law six times.

The office does not track how many gun removal orders are ultimately granted.

Information about those cases is limited, but brief summaries provided by the attorney general’s office show how dire and dangerous the situations were.

In December, Sanford police intercepted a woman while she was attempting to buy a gun to kill herself. Last month, Waterville police intervened when a 42-year-old woman, diagnosed with schizophrenia, was armed with two handguns, an automatic rifle and a knife. She believed she was being stabbed and that police were going to shoot her. In January, Wells police used the yellow flag process with a 25-year-old man who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had thoughts of harming a co-worker.

Ben Strick, senior director of adult behavioral health at Spurwink, said the new process has gone well so far and credited the law enforcement agencies that have already used it for taking “extreme care to prevent bad things from happening.”


“A big piece is making sure that all law enforcement knows this is available to them,” Strick said.

Word is still getting out, he said, and the Maine Chiefs of Police Association is hosting a training in March for law enforcement officers, prosecutors and mental health providers.

“DHHS and Spurwink continue to collaborate with the Department of Public Safety on continued education and support for law enforcement about the availability of telehealth assessments,” said Jackie Farwell, a spokeswoman for the department.

Strick also serves on the deadly force review panel and he believes that the law will be used more frequently going forward and could reduce deadly shootings by law enforcement.

“Each time (an assessment) comes in, I think, ‘This was somebody that was prevented from a deadly force incident,’” he said.

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