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Island residents speak out on Sheriff's department coverage

By Stephen Betts | Jul 31, 2020
Photo by: Knox County Sheriff's Office

Vinalhaven — Concerns about response times and follow-up investigations were voiced by citizens July. 30 at a forum concerning police protection for Vinalhaven.

More than 75 people turned out for the meeting that lasted more than two hours at a field across from the town library.

The meeting was held following rejection of an article on the July 22 town meeting warrant that would have allotted $121,335 for services from the Knox County Sheriff's Office. That was the only article rejected on the 48-article town meeting agenda that was attended by 20 people.

The rejection followed several incidents on the island including the June 14 stabbing death of Roger Feltis and vandalism complaints from people from off the island who were staying on Vinalhaven.

No action was taken at the meeting, but the Board of Selectmen has scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Aug. 4 to discuss options for police services.

Knox County Sheriff Tim Carroll attended the meeting.

According to minutes maintained by the town of the July 30 meeting, residents voiced a number of sentiments. Residents said they wanted an officer who gets to know the Main Street business owners, school staff and students and who "had a pulse on the community.

Island residents also voiced concern about the lack of follow up by the department when complaints are filed.

In terms of response times, the Sheriff acknowledged there were many factors affecting that. With no roads leading to the community, the Sheriff's Office relies on other agencies such as the Maine State Ferry Service, Department of Marine Resources, the U.S. Coast Guard and Penobscot Island Air. Weather can also affect the response time to the island.

He also acknowledged that responding from North Haven can also be a challenge and time consuming, according to the minutes of the meeting.

Vinalhaven has a year-round population of about 1,100 residents, but that swells by thousands during the summer with seasonal residents.

The ferry trip takes about one hour and 15 minutes to make the 15-mile trek across Penobscot Bay from Rockland.

Residents said the logistical issues of responding from the adjacent island of North Haven shows that it makes sense to have a deputy assigned to the island to live on Vinalhaven.

Knox County has had contracts with both Vinalhaven and North Haven for decades for providing police services.

Vinalhaven's contract expired Dec. 31. The expired contract called for the town to receive 40 hours of police service each week. The town provided up to $750 per month for housing and up to $4,500 per year for heating fuel and electricity for a deputy. The town also paid for a cruiser and office space.

The sheriff has said previously that the island has been fortunate that in the past because deputies decided to live on Vinalhaven, and there was a feeling that the officer was part of the community.

Knox County Town Administrator Andrew Hart also said it has been difficult over the long term to find deputies who are willing to live on the islands.

Sheriff Carroll acknowledged recent events and expressed support for community healing. Trust between the community and law enforcement is critical and a two-way street to serving the community, he said according to the minutes of the town meeting.

Vinalhaven is one of the smallest communities in Knox County in terms of populations, but a third in the number of calls for services and second in terms of number of arrest.

The Sheriff said law enforcement on Vinalhaven is absolutely needed, and that the Sheriff's Office is committed to working with the board and community to find a solution.

Vinalhaven is paying Knox County $590,000 in 2020 as its annual tax assessment that pays for services such as police, operating the jail, dispatch and other county departments. Camden pays the most with an annual cost this year of $1.64 million.

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