A virtual listening session Monday meant to solicit input on local concerns and discuss policing issues and policies will include a captive audience comprising central Maine police chiefs and municipal officials.

Listening to and interacting with members of the community is something police chiefs would normally do in person on their municipalities’ streets and at local eateries and other gathering places in their day-to-day rounds, according to event organizers. But the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings meant to help limit spread of the virus have severely limited social interactions over the past year.

Instead of meeting in person, southern Kennebec County police chiefs — including Jared Mills of Augusta, James Toman of Gardiner, Scott MacMaster of Hallowell, Ryan Frost of Winthrop and Kevin Mulherin of Monmouth — will gather for the public session at 5 p.m. Monday over the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

Those wishing to participate must register at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_jLxx7zgQTKiKMQLhHUe7iA. After registering, participants will receive an email with a link to the event.

Mills, who is to become president this fall of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said following conversations he had with officials of Maine Municipal Association and the University of Maine at Augusta’s Community Policing Institute, they decided it would be good to have town hall meetings around the state to solicit feedback from the public.

“We are really looking to hear from our community members and what they would like to see us continue to do, stop doing and start doing,” Mills said. “With all the calls for police reform across the nation, we certainly want to hear directly from the folks in our community, as well. During regular times, we would do this in person, but having a virtual meeting is the next best thing.”

Rebecca Graham, legislative advocate for the event’s host, the Maine Municipal Association, said the session will be the first of many virtual, regional gatherings across the state to provide municipal police and managers information on what residents want from police and what changes they would like to see.

Graham said such information will be valuable to local officials, but will also be useful in informing state legislators as they make and influence policing policies. She said the Maine Municipal Association and Maine Chiefs of Police Association held a summit with legislators last February, during which they discussed issues they were facing and where more resources were needed. They also discussed locally developed solutions that could be used to address statewide problems.

Mills said some legislators are expected to participate in Monday’s virtual session.

Noel March, director of the Maine Community Policing Institute, will facilitate the discussion.

Graham said the virtual listening session was not planned in response to police-involved shootings that have sparked protests nationally. Instead, she said, this is the second year of efforts to look at how communities are responding to their local challenges, including those that have existed for years.

“Maine’s municipal police are natural, community-oriented service providers, and this is embedded in municipal culture,” Graham said. “They are deeply aware of the difference between the national and local conversations, and are eager to listen to citizen concerns and provide opportunities for citizen participation in the reform process.

“Building off a familiar Maine town hall model — in a virtual platform under pandemic conditions — is the best way we can safely start these conversations with our community residents that would have been done in person under normal circumstances.”

Mills said he was not worried some people might see the session as an opportunity to criticize police in a public forum.

“If that does happen, it will certainly give us the opportunity to take a hard look at what we are doing to determine if there is truth to the criticism and, if so, how we can change what we are doing to improve,” he said. “You don’t learn when you do things perfectly. If there are better ideas out there, we want to hear about them.”


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