Boothbay Harbor, Sheriff’s Dept. agree to more coverage

Wed, 03/29/2023 - 9:30am

    Boothbay Harbor Police Department is getting a little help from its friends in dealing with a manpower shortage. Two more resignations take place in April as patrolman Jennifer Gosselin resigns April 1 and Sgt. Pat Higgins resigns April 15. This leaves Boothbay Harbor with two active full-time officers, Chief Doug Snyder and patrolman Larry Brown. But Brown is on medical leave for nine months. Last fall, the town entered into a temporary agreement with the county sheriff’s department for added coverage. 

    Now with an even more depleted department, Boothbay Harbor has reached a tentative deal with the sheriff’s department for six more months. On March 27, selectmen had an executive session to discuss personnel issues. Midway through, Snyder, County Commissioner Hamilton Meserve, County Administrator Carrie Kipfer and Sheriff Todd Brackett joined the conversation. 

    Once selectmen re-entered the public meeting, county and municipal officials announced a proposed memorandum of understanding to provide additional county patrolmen in Boothbay Harbor. The wording is still being crafted, but Town Manager Julia Latter described it as a“temporary” agreement. The memorandum awaits county commissioners’ approval.

    Brackett said the current labor shortage impacted his department in recent years. Currently, the patrol division has 17 of 18 jobs filled, but he understands the struggles in finding quality applicants. Lincoln County established a recruitment bonus to attract qualified personnel. Brackett credited the county commissioners with providing him with support and resources in filling those vacancies. “This is a difficult spot for everyone. The Maine Sheriff’s Association reports recruitment levels are the lowest in 20 years,” he said. “We will work with the town to fill those vacant shifts by shifting our southern patrol zone closer to Boothbay Harbor.”

    Resident Steve Carbone asked how the municipal department would fill its vacancies. Snyder responded he was pursuing several avenues used by Brackett, such as advertising on national law enforcement websites. He was also traveling around the region to job fairs. “Two weeks ago, I found a new hire in Massachusetts, and next month I’m going to one in Auburn. So we are doing pretty much what we can,” he said. 

    Resident George Friant attended a board meeting last month and spoke about his concerns about the lack of police personnel. He also attended the March 27 meeting. He did not like how selectmen went into executive session, and later invited county officials and Snyder to discuss the staffing shortage. “How does that work, you go into executive session then invite back others,” he said. 

    Chairman Mike Tomko responded by introducing the guests and explaining the board did not expect county personnel to attend. Friant questioned whether selectmen were taking the staff shortage seriously enough. Tomko told him the board had searched for solutions for nearly two years. “When a factory loses workers, you don't close the factory. Industry all over is starving for workers. You have to reach out to the labor force and make it worth their while,” he said.

    Friant also asked about the current Boothbay Harbor police roster. Latter said besides Snyder and Brown, on April 15, the department would have five reserves. Friant also asked about the memorandum’s financial details. Unlike the previous agreement, the sheriff’s department would be compensated for the additional coverage, Latter said. This response led to the following exchange between Friant and Tomko. “We pay the taxes that feeds the county, and we have to pay for extra protection,” Friant said. “It’s a little bit more complicated than that,” Tomko said. “I don’t like your condescending attitude,” Friant said. 

    “I’m not being condescending. I’m trying to give you an answer,” Tomko said. “It’s a little more nuance and subtle than just dollars. I’m trying to give you an answer. There is also a mutual aid component.”

    Tomko offered to further discuss the staffing shortage with Friant at a future time. Latter said she would begin working on the memorandum’s wording and forward it to the commissioners.