THOMASTON — The Thomaston Select Board accepted the appointments of three new police officers at its Monday, Dec. 19 meeting. Police Chief Tim Hoppe said with the addition of these officers, the Thomaston Police Department is fully staffed for the first time in almost 20 years.

The Select Board approved the appointments of Brook Hartshorn, Jerome Vitale and Mark Tibbets as Thomaston patrol officers, though the three had already been hired and begun work.

Maine law states municipal officers such as a select board must appoint town employees like police officers. These appointments last for one year, and then the municipal officers may renew them.

The last time the department was fully staffed was between 2005 and 2007, Hoppe said in a Dec. 20 interview. Thomaston Police Department now employs seven officers plus Hoppe.

This outcome is no accident, though. Instead it is the culmination of months of work by Hoppe to restructure how the department functions and increase wages.

“It’s huge,” Hoppe said of the impact of a fully staffed police department. He added it should make a big difference in traffic control, which residents cite as an ongoing issue.

After struggling to maintain a fully staffed police force and engaging in what he described as “a wage war” with other local law enforcement agencies, Hoppe approached Town Manager Kara George over the summer with a two-part solution.

Hoppe proposed implementing a 48/96 schedule, meaning two police officers on duty per shift, working in overlapping shifts of 48 hours on and 96 hours off.

This is an unusual schedule for a police force but is how fire and emergency departments have operated for years. Hoppe said he found news articles about police departments in other states that experienced great success with this schedule.

Hoppe said a 48/96 schedule would provide 24-hour police coverage in town, which had never happened before. It would also decrease taxpayer money spent on police overtime and cut the response time for overnight emergencies.

Prior to this schedule change, officers were on call overnight and responding to emergencies from their homes, sometimes several towns away.

Hoppe said the department just finished the first week of being fully staffed and using the 48/96 schedule on Dec. 19. “Everybody loved it; I loved it,” he said.

Hoppe said he was able to respond to a vehicle accident in the early morning hours of Dec. 20 in only five minutes. Before last week, response to a night emergency call could take twenty minutes or more depending on which officer was on call and where that officer lived.

The other part of Hoppe’s solution, and the item which made it possible, was an immediate $147,406 increase to the 2022-2023 police budget.

The budget committee approved this increase Sept. 8, the Select Board approved it Sept. 12 and Thomaston residents approved the new budget Sept. 28 at a special town meeting.

This vote made the new total police budget $839,499. Prior to the town meeting the budget was $691,091.

The budget increase allowed Hoppe to offer a competitive starting wage and provided funding to hire the additional officers needed to implement the new schedule. Part of the new budget was also to fund the construction of a sleeping quarters in the police station.

Recordings of this and other meetings can be found at townhallstreams.com/towns/thomaston_me.

The next Thomaston Select Board meeting is Monday, Jan. 9, 2023 at 6 p.m.