PARIS — Oxford County commissioners met with municipal police chiefs, Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant and his deputies Tuesday to discuss the state of law enforcement in the county.

Each attendee shared his or her concerns about the ramifications to smaller municipal police departments should the Oxford County Jail ever close as a result of recent budget and funding changes. Fearing that the responsibility of transporting prisoners would shift to local departments, police chiefs stated how difficult that task would be.

“If the jail closes and worst-case scenario is we have to start transporting, it’s a huge draw,” Oxford Police Chief Jonathan Tibbetts said. “It takes an officer out of town. There would be fewer arrests, more summonses.”

In Mexico, only one officer is typically on duty at a time. That would leave the town uncovered if the on-duty officer has to make an arrest and transport the prisoner potentially hours away to a jail in another county. Mexico already has a problem with coverage during the time it takes to bring an officer to the county jail in Paris. It’s a two- to three-hour round trip they can only realistically accomplish by relying on mutual aid, unless the police chief is able to provide coverage when the arrest takes place.

Rumford Police Chief Stacy Carter said he hopes the jail never closes, but if it does, he hopes the county would still provide assistance to the towns.

“I think we need to look at the county budget and what it would take to keep (the jail) open, and I think the county still has a role to play . . . providing transport . . . but we don’t want to go down that path,” Carter said.

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Gallant said he believed the county would continue to provide transportation services.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m a firm believer that based on statutes, (jail administrator) Ed (Quinn) and I are still going to be responsible for prisoners,” Gallant said.

He said that law enforcement personnel meeting annually with county commissioners used to be required by statute, but when the law was repealed, Oxford County commissioners continued with the long-standing practice, more by way of tradition than requirement.

Interim Paris Police Chief Jeff Lange took the opportunity Tuesday to update commissioners on efforts to fight the heroin epidemic in Oxford County. Lange, who is a primary organizer of the Western Maine Addiction Task Force, said every law enforcement agency is involved in the task force.

They are working on ways to include the northern part of the county, including holding joint, simultaneous task force meetings in a southern and northern location, connected via Skype, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of support and meetings have grown and grown every time,” Lange said. “Even C.N. Brown has come forward to offer jobs for people in recovery, which is huge. (I’m) hoping more businesses will come forward.”

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Lange said there is also an effort to implement a drug court, which would help keep addicts out of jails and might also help lighten the burden on the jail.

Several police chiefs mentioned the benefit of adding a canine unit to the Sheriff’s Office in the fight against drugs in the community. Having a dog, or dogs, trained to detect drugs would result in more arrests for people trafficking in heroin, taking more of the dangerous drug off the street, they said.

Currently, when there is a need for a canine unit, Oxford County law enforcement officials have to call Franklin County to borrow its dogs. Because of new laws affecting how long an officer can detain someone, even if they suspect the individual is carrying drugs, there is not enough time to call another county for a canine unit.

“The heroin epidemic is out of control,” Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Hart Daley said. “Nearly everyone in this county has been impacted. There’s been an impact countywide, statewide. We’ve been looking into canines for a while now. We have our own cruisers that we take home, so they can be set up for dogs. We have several deputies who are interested in that type of program.”

Franklin County is approved and accredited for providing canine training, and Daley said they have offered free training to Oxford County Sheriff’s deputies. Besides retrofitting the vehicles and purchasing the necessary equipment, the biggest cost is associated with purchasing the dogs, according to Daley. He said he is looking into possible grant programs.

“It’s an investment,” Daley said. “You can’t just go to a shelter and pick out a dog. It has to have the proper temperament, disposition — assertive, but not aggressive. It’s a long process/// applied/// to select the right dogs for this type of work.”

Increasing the number of trafficking arrests might also increase revenue for the county, since money used from seizures of property can be turned into a source of revenue. Daley said that adding a canine unit might eventually pay for itself and then some by helping officers find more drug traffickers.

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