Residents typically avoid reporting crimes because of absence of deputies

Islands voice concerns about lack of police coverage

By Stephen Betts | Nov 04, 2019

Vinalhaven/North Haven — Vinalhaven and North Haven officials are asking Knox County to take steps to ensure their residents have "regular, dependable, and effective law enforcement coverage."

The concerns have led to a meeting between island representatives and Knox County officials at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 8 at the Knox County courthouse.

Town officials say the lack of coverage has several implications.

"Our citizens lose faith in the County's ability to meet their law enforcement needs," states the Sept. 10 letter from Vinalhaven Town Manager Andrew Dorr and North Haven Town Administrator Rick Lattimer.

The lack of regular deputies on the island leads to an increase in lawless activities, according to the town officials.

"You might expect the County to experience a higher volume of 9-1-1 calls during times when no deputy is on either island, but that is not the case. Island residents have come to learn that there is little likelihood of the Sheriff's Office being able to dispatch an officer from the mainland to North Haven or Vinalhaven in a timely manner (especially when the problem occurs at night or during foul weather), so they typically avoid reporting," the administrators said.

The town leaders said the intent of their letter was not to complain about the Sheriff's Office.

"Sheriff (Tim) Carroll has attempted to station additional deputies on the islands, but for one reason or another he has had difficulty finding a suitable person who is qualified, interested, and available to serve," the town officials stated.

They pointed out that for the second summer there was one deputy serving both islands rather than stationing a deputy on each island as the contracts contemplate.

In addition to the taxes the municipalities contribute to the County budget, the town officials pointed out the islands also pay an additional contract amount to the Sheriff's Office for 60 hours of weekly service for Vinalhaven and 40 hours for North Haven.

Instead, however, one deputy is working 80 hours per week and must travel by private boat, regardless of weather, to respond to calls on the other island.

Vinalhaven will pay $595,000 toward the county budget in 2020 if the current budget is approved. North Haven will pay $380,000. In addition, the budget calls for $40,379 from Vinalhaven and $34,438 from North Haven for Sheriff's services.

The situation has also led to considerable overtime for the deputy who serves the island, which risks the officer burning out; and the overtime costs lead to budget problems for the islands.

The island leaders have asked the county to immediately authorize the sheriff to override the current budgeted staffing level and hire an additional deputy to serve the island; increase the budget to provide for a third deputy  to serve the islands and create a rotation with the three to make sure there is coverage on both islands; provide an appropriate boat and motor for the deputies to cross the Fox Island Thoroughfare between the two islands; and modify the contracts so the towns provide money toward lodging for the deputies rather than finding housing for them.

The Maine State Ferry takes one hour and 15 minutes to make the 15-mile trip from Rockland to Vinalhaven and the Ferry to North Haven takes one hour and 10 minutes for the 12.5-mile trip. In emergencies, the Sheriff's Office has received assistance from the the Maine Marine Patrol and the Coast Guard which are both based in Rockland as is the Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff's Office has also been assisted by Penobscot Island Air, a private airline that operates out of the Knox County Regional Airport in Owls Head.

Sheriff Carroll said Monday, that "Collectively we have talked about these concerns before. To discuss possible resolutions, we decided to have a meeting to further discuss options."

He said the problem is not truly a budget issue but instead it has become increasingly difficult to attract qualified candidates for law enforcement. And then when you ask someone to live on an island where back-up may not be available for an extended time, it is even more difficult, the sheriff said.

He said that the deputy on North Haven is transported to Vinalhaven when needed with the assistance of Brown's wharf, the sheriff said. The county has applied for federal grants to get a boat that could take deputies from the mainland to the islands but has not received any even though Knox County is responsible for serving two of more populated islands in the state.

Vinalhaven has a year-round population of 1,165 and North Haven 355. The population increases significantly during the summer as seasonal residents and tourists arrive.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Dale Hayward | Nov 05, 2019 21:53

I never heard of this disappointment when Rob was Sheriff on the islands. What ever happened? Maybe someone needs to look at  this situation a little closed. Right under your nose.

 



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