ROCKLAND — The Rockland Police Review Committee held its first meeting Monday evening Oct. 18 and agreed to meet again Nov. 1 to discuss police hiring practices and training.

The inaugural meeting was largely an opportunity for the volunteer members to introduce themselves and discuss what information they wanted to have. The next meeting will be Nov. 1.

Member Joseph Steinberger said he would like to compare how much Rockland spends on police to other similar-sized cities.

“I’m not in favor of de-funding. I want to spend a reasonable amount,” Steinberger said.

Member Emily Emmott pointed out Rockland is the county seat of Knox County which means it has more activity than other communities with the same population.

Deputy Police Chief Joel Neal, who is expected to become interim chief upon the departure of Chief Christopher Young in three weeks, told members that most of the department policies are from the Maine Chiefs of Police and the criminal justice academy. He said the city can have stricter policies but not less rigorous.

Those policies, about 500 pages, are posted on the department’s web site.

Members also asked about getting crime statistic and call information.

In December 2020, the Courier-Gazette compared Rockland to nine other communities in Maine that are service centers and similar in population. Those communities include Bath with a population of 8,338, Belfast 6,679, Brewer 9,025, Ellsworth 8,180, Farmington 7,762, Houlton 5,752, Old Town 7,435, Presque Isle 9,007, and Skowhegan 8,239. Rockland’s population is 6,936, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

Rockland, however, is both a service center for the region and the county seat. Service centers tend to provide more services and have higher property tax rates, because they provide services out of proportion to their resident population due to the influx of people who shop or conduct business there.

Retail businesses in Rockland, for example, generated revenues of $217 million in 2019, indicating its position as a service center. Of the other nine communities, Ellsworth had the most retail sales last year at $394 million while Old Town had the least at $63 million.

The Rockland Police Department budget for 2020-2021 budget is the second largest in city government at $2,177,000. Only public services, which includes operation of city solid waste facility, costs more with an annual budget of $3,080,000. Rockland’s police budget includes benefits such as health insurance. Some other communities do not include those benefits in the individual departments’ budgets but lump all municipal employees’ benefits into a separate account.

Rockland’s police department budget of $2,177,000 is the second most when compared to the other nine communities. Brewer’s budget is slightly more at $2.2 million. Old Town’s police budget is $1,876,000. Skowhegan came in next at $1,629,000. Bath’s police budget is $1,590,000; Ellsworth $1.5 million; Presque Isle at $1,366,000 but that does not include benefits; Belfast $1,235,000 also not including benefits; Farmington $1,312,000; and Houlton $1,108,000 which does include benefits.

In 2019, Rockland police responded 9,511 calls for service, ranging from serious crimes, accidents, and neighborhood disputes. As of December 2020, the Rockland Police Department responded to 7,883 calls for service. This is a 14.5 percent decrease from the same period last year. Chief Young said at the time the decrease was a direct result of the pandemic.

Of those calls for service, about 300 of them were mental health calls. In May, the chief noted that half the officers have completed crisis intervention training while all officers had some level of training to respond to mental health calls. His goal is for all officers to receive more training.

The Maine Department of Public Safety compiles annual crime statistics for municipal, county, and state police agencies. The statewide statistics for 2019 were released Dec. 29.

These uniform crime reports shows that Rockland had a record low of 123 serious crimes during 2019 — which are defined as murder, robbery, aggravated assault, theft, arson, and motor vehicle theft. The crime rate was 17.26 per 1,000 residents. As late as 2010, Rockland had 427 of these crimes reported. The record high was 749 in 1980.

The number of crimes and crime rates for the other communities in 2019 were Bath 140 (16.85); Belfast 41 (6.10); Brewer 305 (33.89); Ellsworth 180 (22.26); Farmington 98 (12.89) with another eight crimes handled by the University of Maine at Farmington public safety agency; Houlton 181 (31.64); Old Town 82 (11.06); Presque Isle 249 (27.92); and Skowhegan 227 (27.64).

Rockland’s crime rate has decreased over the past several decades. This is attributed both to demographic changes and stepped up enforcement and crime prevention efforts. As the population ages, older people generally commit fewer crimes. Rockland’s department, however, has been credited with reducing the crime rate.

Rockland has 19 positions budgeted, including the chief, deputy chief, sergeants, detectives, patrol officer and ticket officer. Staff provides 24-hour coverage. The department, like most across the country, has vacancies.

Rockland Police cleared 43% of the cases in 2018, greater than the state average of 38%.

The Council voted July 12 to create the ad-hoc committee to “investigate ways to improve community policing in Rockland” and report those recommendations to the City Council. The work is expected to take 12 months to complete, but the committee can ask for additional time.

The members are Angela McIntyre, Emmott, Anne “Pinny” Beebe-Center, Dana Crane, Steinberger and Russell Beauchemin. Councilor Davis will be a non-voting member of the committee to serve as a liaison to the City Council.