Resident voices concerns about understaffed police force

Tue, 02/14/2023 - 1:00pm

    Boothbay Harbor Police Department has been short-staffed for months and a resident believes if the situation isn’t addressed soon, it will result in adverse consequences. Resident Kate Sullivan urged selectmen Feb. 13 to take action regarding a police force which had only four of eight full-time jobs filled. She had concerns the town could not provide continual police coverage with a depleted full-time crew and reserves. 

    “Police work is a stressful job and officers are forced to work alone,” she said. “They are often the first to arrive for police, ambulance or EMT calls. They are often tied up for hours which leaves the town vulnerable when back-up is often 20 minutes away.”

    Sullivan has years of experience working in municipal public safety. She worked 27 years as a Massachusetts public employee. Sullivan served two years as chief of staff for the mayor of Salem, Massachusetts, four years as chief of staff for Boston Emergency Medical Services, and four years serving in Boston City Council’s budget review and approval process. She had previously written letters to selectmen and Town Manager Julia Latter. She received responses from two selectmen and Latter.

    In the meantime, she researched starting pay and benefits for Lincoln County law enforcement departments and found Boothbay Harbor had the lowest new hire pay. She reported Waldoboro had the highest new hire pay ranging from $25 to $30 per hour. Damariscotta was second at $28.73. Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department was third at $26.78. Wiscasset was next at $25 which increases by 6% in July. Boothbay Harbor pays $22.62 per hour.

    “I don’t like speaking here in a public forum, but I believe this is months overdue in addressing these issues, and that’s why I’m here. This is in your hands. I can only advocate and offer assistance,” she said.

    Sullivan proposed a plan to boost Boothbay Harbor police recruitment. She recommended re-opening contract negotiations with the police union and boosting pay and benefits. Sullivan urged selectmen to work with local businesses in creating affordable housing and dedicating a portion for public service employees. She recommended creating a program targeted at youth for encouraging a criminal justice career. Sullivan described the program as providing tuition in exchange for working in Boothbay Harbor for a certain time. Sullivan also urged selectmen to seek state assistance in funding recruitment programs. 

    Boothbay Harbor has contracted with Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department to provide additional staffing. Sullivan recommended selectmen inform businesses and residents about the agreement. “This would include the number of hours the county staffs, and report what hours are not covered,” she said.

    Sullivan’s last recommendation was commending current officers for their service. She also wanted the town to provide them with an additional stipend and provide them with more time off once full staffing was reached. She volunteered to sit on a future committee to review recruitment programs. She said her husband, who served 35 years as a Salem, Massachusetts fireman and was chief for 14 years, would also serve on a committee. “We would be happy to sit on a committee or work with you in any way to help address these issues,” she said.