Parking Enforcement Officer John Mitkus (left), Chief Chad Andrews (center), and Officer Jason Warlick stand in front of the Damariscotta Police Department.by Elisa Hawkes
Coastal Journal staff
DAMARISCOTTA — According to Damariscotta Police Chief Chad Andrews, the email he received from Town Manager Matt Lutkus during the afternoon of June 12 left him in shock. The email said that Lutkus had sent a letter to Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett seeking a proposal for the Sheriff’s Office to replace the Damariscotta Police Department on a contractual basis.
“I was upset that the subject hadn’t even been broached in person,” said Andrews.
Andrews said his staff did not receive the email until after they had read about the possible change in the newspaper. He felt the news was disheartening for his officers, and was surprising given the lack of preparation.
“There has been a huge outpouring of support from business owners and townspeople, however,” Andrews said.
Lutkus, who has been town manager for approximately six months, said the Damariscotta selectmen asked him to look into alternative approaches to providing police services for the town, including investigating a proposal from the County Sheriff. Lutkus said he issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a police staffing study, but could not find a qualified company willing to complete the project. One company he spoke to said the project was too small for them to consider.
Lutkus sent a letter to Brackett outlining parameters for a proposal for town police services. Items in the letter include: An on-duty Sheriff’s Deputy would be physically located within the town limits on a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour basis. (Alternately, two Deputies would be available in the town or adjacent communities during off-peak periods, or in the wee hours of the morning.) There would no longer be police officers working for the town. The Sheriff’s Department would provide all vehicles and necessary equipment. There would be no town offices available for the police department. Foot patrol and cruiser patrol on public streets and roads would continue in Damariscotta.
Lutkus stressed giving the current full-time police department staff the “right of first refusal” on any officer positions that would open in the Sheriff’s Office if the proposal were to be adopted.
Currently, the Police Department consists of the Chief of Police, four officers, and an administrative assistant, plus several reserve officers and parking enforcement officers. There is also a vacancy for a sergeant, who would be second in command, and who would take over when Andrews is absent.
Lutkus emphasized this is a very preliminary step. He said the selectmen would have to approve the proposal, and then the town charter would have to be changed in order to hire the Sheriff’s Office. The change to the charter would necessitate a town vote. Lutkus said the vote would not be likely until at least November.
Lutkus said, “Chad is doing a great job. He did a great job on the request to get additional training, also. This is no reflection on Chad whatsoever. The impetus for looking into the change was solely a budgetary consideration.”
Lutkus said the 2012 Police Department budget is approximately $528,000. It is the number-one highest departmental budget in the town, followed by the Highway Department at $321,000. The total town budget for the year is $2,575,000.
Lutkus added that the taxes paid to Lincoln County by Damariscotta are $402,668, a good part of which are for the Sheriff’s Office services. The change would eliminate the police department budget, and add an additional amount paid to the Sheriff’s Office.
Andrews said he does not believe the change would show a significant cost savings. Similar plans had been proposed in Wiscasset and Waldoboro, both of which were rejected.
Andrews also said he believes the level of service would not be the same.
“For the county to provide the same level of service, there would have to be at least four deputies in town 24/7. Also, having officers in adjacent communities during off-peak hours won’t work. The low volume of calls at that time has to do with the police presence. Knowing officers are in the community keeps people from committing crimes.”
Andrews said the Lincoln County Sheriff’s department does a good job. The problem is Lincoln County is a large place. At off peak times, the average response time for an officer in an adjacent town would be 18 minutes. He said the average response time for a Damariscotta Police Officer is four minutes. When someone needs help, that is a big difference.
Andres said, “Miles Memorial Hospital Emergency Room has called eight to 10 times in the past couple of months with emergencies, patients they needed to subdue. Some of the calls were about bath salts [designer drug causing violent behavior]. We get called there at least weekly, usually during the early morning hours. Twenty minutes is just too long to wait.”
Andrews also emphasized the community aspect of the job. He said the town’s people know the Police Department officers. He said if people know your face, they would not give you a problem as quickly as they otherwise might. He is proud of the D.A.R.E. (Drugs Abuse Resistance Education) program instituted in Damariscotta schools, and the relationship the department has built with town youth. Again, the personal touch of a town police department comes into play, says Andrews.
Andrews said he is sure, given the size of the area the Sheriff’s office has to cover, and the monetary constraints of the town, the Damariscotta Police Department would do the best job protecting the citizens of Damariscotta. He said the people have been very pleased with the police department, and if they are given the chance to vote, he and his team will continue to serve the community.