PARIS — Lacking a chief and detective and low on patrol manpower, the Paris Police Department is stretching itself thin to provide full law enforcement coverage for the town.

Responding to rumors that there was no patrol officer on duty Wednesday, Aug. 28, Interim Chief Jerry Hinton said the town was covered, although Sgt. Skip Mowatt, who is also the school resource officer for SAD 17, had to pull double duty.

On Wednesday, Mowatt was working at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School as SRO but was also in uniform with a Paris PD cruiser, prepared to respond to any emergency, Hinton said.

“It’s unfortunate that somebody would think that the Police Department didn’t care enough that we wouldn’t provide public safety,” Hinton said.

Paris PD has been operating with a skeleton crew for more than a month. In mid-July, officer Alan Carr resigned from the force, followed by officer Harry Sims several weeks later.

The departure of two patrolmen exacerbated an already thin force, which is in the process of hiring a new chief and detective sergeant, Hinton said.

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To complicate matters, officer Nick Gilbert is presently attending the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro for an 18-week certification course, leaving the force with only four full-time officers available.

The department has also had difficulty filling shifts with its reserve officers, Hinton said.

One of the town’s three reserve patrolmen recently left the force and another hasn’t been picking up shifts. The third works another job, but has diligently signed up for shifts on his days off, Hinton said.

The coverage still isn’t enough, Hinton said. Mowatt will most likely need to pull double duty as SRO and patrolman three more times in the next month, he guessed.

SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts, reached Friday, said the district appreciated the pressures the department was under. Colpitts said he was not concerned with having Mowatt work as both SRO and patrolman.

“We’re all in the same community,” Colpitts said. “If there is an emergency, we want to make sure Skip can respond to it if he needs to.”

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Until the department hires new officers and gets other patrolmen back from MCJA, it will have to operate without a full complement. Hinton said the department might not be at full capacity until May of next year, after officer Tim Libby completes his academy training.

Scheduling has been a challenge for the department, Hinton admitted.

“We’re trying; we’re desperately trying,” he said, “but every shift is covered.”

The town intends to “stack” calls in order to respond to the most important first and will be counting on its partners in the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, Maine State Police and Oxford and Norway police departments to provide backup.

“We back each other up, and we’re not going to leave the town of Paris without law enforcement,” Hinton said.

Despite strained manpower, Hinton said he still believes keeping the Police Department was the right choice for Paris.

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In June, residents voted against entering into a contract for police services with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, deciding to keep the town’s department instead.

The loss of two officers within a month and a half of the vote created an unfortunate deficit for the town, but the department is on its way to recovery, Hinton said.

“We were good to go and had the full complement of officers and the right approach to hiring a police chief when that vote happened,” Hinton said.

“It does leave a big hole, but can that happen to any police department?” he asked. “Absolutely it can, especially when you are down to bare minimum staffing to begin with.”

Hinton said he is trying to finish the hiring “as rapidly as possible.” The department is also putting out feelers to attract more reserve officers to fill shifts, he said.

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