Lawmakers tabled a bill on Wednesday that is meant to address widespread staffing shortages in law enforcement across the state, taking the step a week after the Department of Public Safety submitted testimony opposing the measure.

The bill would call on the Department of Public Safety to oversee a group of stakeholders from the law enforcement community tasked with analyzing and proposing solutions to the low recruitment and retention rates reported by police departments across the state.

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Portland police close Commercial Street from Pearl to Franklin to traffic just in July 2022. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer, file 

Several department leaders said last month that they’re receiving far fewer applications for law enforcement openings, a problem that has coincided with a surge of retirements from the field. They said several factors have contributed to the drop, including changing attitudes about work, the difficulty of confronting the homeless and mental health crises, and the negative public perception of law enforcement in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minnesota police in 2020 and the resulting protests.

Staffing shortages have left those remaining in law enforcement overworked and susceptible to burnout, police leaders say. And while well-funded departments have had some luck filling their ranks with lateral “blue pin” hires from other departments, that has only exacerbated the problem in other agencies.

At a public hearing before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Jan. 29, several police leaders endorsed L.D. 2094 as a positive step toward improving recruitment.

“We’ve come to a very serious fork in the road,” said Paul Gaspar, the executive director of the Maine Association of Police and a founding member of the Maine Law Enforcement Coalition. “At the end of the day, you can’t hide 300 vacancies.”


Gaspar was joined by leaders from the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and the Maine Fraternal Order of Police who spoke in support of the bill.

But Lt. Col. Brian Scott of the Maine State Police said the Department of Public Safety would not support the bill because it could not take the lead on conducting a broad analysis of law enforcement agencies across Maine. While state police have recently begun to turn the corner on their own staffing problems, he said, the project would once again put the department behind the eight ball.

“The ask of this working group is very robust and would take hundreds of staff hours to complete,” he said. “We’re just hoping to focus our efforts on state police at this time.”

Scott said the Department of Public Safety would be willing to participate in discussions about recruitment and retention of law enforcement. But he reiterated that the state police would not support a bill that would put the department in charge of examining the problem, even if lawmakers agreed to scale back the scope of the proposed analysis.

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee was scheduled discuss the L.D. 2094 again Wednesday, but lawmakers quickly agreed to table the bill pending further discussions between the proposal’s sponsors and members of the law enforcement community.

The bill’s sponsor, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagsh, said that “interested parties” were working on an amendment, but he declined to share details about how it would change the bill and who the changes were meant to satisfy.

The Department of Public Safety is not involved in discussions about the bill and is not aware of the specifics of the amendment Jackson referenced, a department spokesperson said.

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