Officers needed

Thomaston police chief: 'We are at a very pivotal moment'

By Beth A. Birmingham | Dec 03, 2018
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Thomaston Police Chief Tim Hoppe, left, reads a letter he presented to the Board of Selectmen requesting assistance in securing a full staff of officers during a workshop Nov. 29. Also shown are, from left, Selectmen Beverly St. Clair, Peter McCrea and Lee-Ann Upham.

Thomaston — With one officer transferring to the Knox County Sheriff's Office and another heading to the Criminal Justice Academy for ongoing training, the Thomaston Police Department is in critical need of officers.

"Maybe it's time for some change," Police Chief Tim Hoppe told the Board of Selectmen Nov. 26. "When we're fully staffed, we're short-handed."

Although his department is down two officers, Hoppe has requested four and urged the town to offer a more competitive benefits package.

Hoppe's words at the meeting prompted selectmen to call for a workshop Nov. 29, at which each received a binder filled with comparisons, figures and suggestions compiled by Hoppe.

"I'm trying to get ahead of the problems we've been facing for a long time," the chief said.

Hoppe, who has been with the department since 2001, said once the one officer goes to the academy in January, that will leave two officers to cover 77 hours per week for the town.

"We are at a very pivotal moment to even exist," he told the board. "We need to think about how we're going to build up and how we're going to retain."

He said he personally thinks offering full family benefits, which were discontinued in favor of just individual coverage in 2005, would be a big key -- especially as other area towns with their own police departments do offer it.

"It's a big cost to have," Hoppe said, adding that insurance is good, but it's not a fix-all.

Town Manager Valmore Blastow, who said he has volumes of data about the police department's vacancies, noted that in the past 10 years there was only one year when there were zero vacancies.

He also shared that pay scales vary, with Thomaston averaging $41,700, while Bangor is at $36,000 and Portland averages $39,000.

"I would say this is the biggest question facing our town right now," Chairman Peter Lammert said, "because if the police department ceases, we don't need the room in Lura Libby. That's a huge consideration."

Should the police department in Thomaston be dissolved, the town would be forced to enlist the county for police services, just like Warren and several other communities in Knox County.

In that scenario, the town would not be charged anything -- aside from the annual county assessment -- unless it demanded designated patrols in the town. Hoppe offered a figure of $55,400 as a cost for one sheriff's deputy to service Thomaston seven days a week, 11 hours a day, at $40 per hour.

When asked by Selectman Peter McCrea how he determines the need for more officers, Hoppe said working alone is difficult and having other officers around is a morale booster.

"It also reduces liability with two people," he said. "We do have people who come here thinking we are not prepared. Two sets of eyes are better than one."

Currently, area police departments have a mutual-aid agreement and do not charge if assistance is requested -- unlike EMS services.

Resident Susan Devlin said that in doing more research on the relocation and changes needed not only in the police department but also in the EMS, which is suffering from lack of growth as well, she does not want the town to lose sight of the quality of care it would receive if it chose to go with county services.

Hoppe said he has some recommendations, which include considering cross-training. He noted that one week he saved the town three calls for mutual-aid EMS by driving the ambulance himself. Currently, Thomaston is charged $800 per call when Rockland EMS is requested to take a call for Thomaston.

"Maybe it's time for some changes if you don't want to lose services," Hoppe said.

Hoppe said the problem isn't new and it is a national one, noting that area towns are also struggling to keep their departments full.

"It depends on what's going on on the news," he said. "That really does effect it."

"I'm optimistic that I can make it different. I have visions of great things," he added, "but I do need some tools to work with."

Qualifications for applying for a reserve officer position include certification as a reserve or fully certified officer in Maine, or the ability to transfer an out-of-state certification as a minimum requirement. The pay rate for these positions is $16.11 per hour for part-time certified officers and $19.67 for full-time certified academy graduates. Applicants may expect an interview process, physical fitness and medical test, a background investigation and polygraph and psychological examinations.

Applicants for patrol officer positions must have a valid Maine driver’s license, no traffic or criminal convictions for the past three years, must be 21 years old and have completed the Maine Criminal Justice Academy pre-service training and complete the MCJA 18-week Basic Training Certification within one year of employment.

Applications may be picked up at the Thomaston Town Office, 170 Main St., or by emailing an application request to Donna Culbertson at: pcbkr@midcoast.com.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Janet Ruth Dearborn | Dec 06, 2018 14:59

There is a glowing omission in this article and that would be Walmart. I read that Thomaston is 11th on the highest crime rates in Maine. There was a qualifier: Walmart's need to process shoplifters, especially those that steal goods and try to return them for money. Is the need for additional policemen directly related to the burden of policing  Walmart?

Last Christmas, as I walked around Walmart it appeared every cop in town was there. Loudspeaker announcements saying to beware of pick pockets. It was a bizarre scene. Perhaps, I am in error thinking that the utilization of the Thomaston Police Department by Walmart puts an undo stress on resources. Personally, I feel they should be providing instore Walmart guards to oversee shoplifting.



Posted by: George Grafton | Dec 04, 2018 11:14

GOOD LUCK TIMME



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