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Maine State Police cite lack of staff, want new plan for Penobscot County coverage

Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 4:34 PM EST
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Maine State Police say they’re understaffed and can’t continue to cover rural parts of Penobscot County the way they have for years.

As it stands, Penobscot County is divided into six zones.

State Police and the Sheriff’s Department each cover three.

The zones alternate each week.

Colonel John Cote sent a letter to Sheriff Troy Morton this week asking to have their responsibilities dropped from three to two zones.

The letter says quote, “We cannot continue under the parameters of an agreement created over two decades ago when our staffing has diminished, and you have been successful in adding frontline personnel during that same time period.”

Morton says they have added deputies, but it came as the county took on coverage for more municipalities, like Orrington and Hermon.

He says those are locations State Police no longer have to cover.

The letter encourages the two agencies work together to find a solution, but adds, quote, “the status quo is not an option.”

Cote says this would go into effect on May 1st.

Morton tells TV5 Penobscot County and State Police have had a very collaborative relationship for years and is confident they can work something out, but that date is not doable.

“It is not that the Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t take over all rural patrol coverage here,” said Morton. “We simply don’t have the assets to do that, and it would take funding to do that whether it’s the state decides to reallocate funding to the counties to help them do that. But, I feel it certainly shouldn’t be just the property tax here in Penobscot County that does. I understand that the state’s position and their responsibilities are not only here in Penobscot County, but stepping away from our agreement that’s in place right now, without having a long term plan could be difficult for the citizens of the county, and then certainly the officers here.”

A statement from Maine State Police to TV5 reads in part...

“Our current commitment does not allow the State Police to effectively address various areas of public safety within Penobscot County such as an increased focus on traffic safety on the interstate highway system or criminal investigations that impact the residents in the county. Moreover, it places considerable strain on troopers who are operating at our current capacity. To that end, we have suggested a modest change in the agreement where we switch from covering three patrols each shift to two patrol zones.”

In the letter, Cote ends by saying if they can’t find an agreeable alternate solution by May, they will have to move forward without a Resource Coordination Agreement between the agencies.

Here is the full statement from Maine State Police.

“The Maine State Police has had a resource coordination agreement with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department since 1997. We have currently been operating under the terms of an agreement that expired in 2010. Right now, coverage of 911 calls is divided 50-50 between State Police and Sheriff Deputies with the two agencies covering different parts of a county simultaneously. The Maine State Police is committed to providing effective and efficient public safety services to the residents of Penobscot County and the State of Maine. Over the years there has been an increase in our agencies calls for service and expectations that have not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in staffing to carry out that mission. Public safety issues and criminal investigations have become increasingly more complex and require a higher level of specialized services to help address them. The Maine State Police provides a majority of the specialized law enforcement and public safety services to not only the residents of the county but also the entire State. Our current commitment does not allow the State Police to effectively address various areas of public safety within Penobscot County such as an increased focus on traffic safety on the interstate highway system or criminal investigations that impact the residents in the county. Moreover, it places considerable strain on troopers who are operating at our current capacity. To that end, we have suggested a modest change in the agreement where we switch from covering three patrols each shift to two patrol zones. The Maine State Police has been discussing call-sharing changes with the Sheriff’s Office for the last 18-24 months.

The public should be not concerned. These proposed changes won’t affect the quality of service that is provided. We would never let lines on a map or any type of call-sharing agreement tie our peoples’ hands from responding to the most important calls that come in. At end of the day when the public calls for help, they don’t care what uniform you are wearing or what agency you are working for. They want a professional, efficient level of service which we feel this proposed agreement provides. Certainly, completely dissolving these agreements is not our first choice and would not be what we prefer, but the status quo is just not an option for us right now.”

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