FARMINGTON — The police department has five positions to fill and finding candidates is a challenge, Police Chief Kenneth Charles told selectmen Tuesday night, June 22.

“Sgt. (Edward) Hastings (IV) has moved on, he resigned to take a position with the fire marshal’s office,” he said. “With the retirement of school resource officer Bridgette Gilbert, that’s another key position that requires a particular skill set to satisfactorily fill.”

Also vacant are a detective and two patrolmen positions.

“At the same time, I still do have one candidate in the late stages of the application process,” Charles said. “I’m hoping he’ll finish soon. To speed that process along we’re going to sponsor a law enforcement pre-service academy.”

Two phases are involved, an online phase first then a second in-person phase.

“We’ll host a phase II class,” Charles said. “It will be awhile before the Maine Criminal Justice Academy offers it. We have the curriculum, the resources and we’re going to provide the training here.”

A similar class was held about a year ago resulting in an employee, he said.

“I don’t know if it will this time, we’re doing what we can to recruit,” Charles said. “I know you’ve been talking about firefighters for a super long time. The pain you have felt for so long Chief (Bell) is the pain we’re dealing with at this point, particularly in Farmington.”

An article on law enforcement in the state of Maine was shared with selectmen by Charles.

“I’d like to think were not in the same position as those in that article: Fort Kent, Millinocket and some others,” he said. “We’re deeply concerned at this point. All agencies throughout Maine are struggling to keep their numbers up. At the same time, we want to keep standards up, minimum standards are required.”

Background checks, criminal history/record, the polygraph process and fitness requirements were noted.

“It’s all things we can’t compromise,” Charles said. “I personally will not compromise for my department, for Farmington. It’s getting harder and harder to find applicants.”

Farmington is budgeted for 13 officers. Charles said he is working with the bargaining unit to adjust some of the agreements for requirements for staffing. There is a 40 minute contractual response time that he would like to expand with the hope of expanding the applicant pool, he said.

Ten years ago or so, that response time was 15 minutes and you had a full department then, Charles noted.

“We don’t have a full department, it’s edging closer to 50%,” he said. “We need to do what we can to bring in applicants and will have to deal with that emergency response in some other way.”

Sign-on bonuses, recruitment incentives approved by selectmen in March haven’t been used yet, but give flash to attract attention, Charles said.

“All departments in the state are pulling from the exact same pool of applicants,” Charles said. “It tends to be the smaller communities that lose out. We can’t touch the benefits of a Bangor, Maine which just increased their contract.”

“How far off is your pay scale,” Selectman Scott Landry asked.

“For big cities it would be a few dollars off per hour,” Charles replied. “We’re trying to sell quality of life here.”

Developing seniority, longevity at a department is a lot to leave, he noted. If people are leaving they’re not going from bigger to smaller departments, he added.

Departments are also losing staff to state jobs, state police and the fire marshal’s office, Charles said.

“We’re several dollars off from those agencies,” he noted. “Those are agencies where people can go and they’re not working overnight shifts. They’re home while our guys are pounding the pavement.”

The controversy over officers’ use of force, all the other issues that have negatively impacted the nation itself has tarnished people’s ideas of a career in law enforcement, Selectman Stephan Bunker said.

“I tell a lot of people this is a department that is well supported by the board, town government and the town itself,” Charles said. “This is a good place to be in law enforcement. Nobody wants to work in service anymore.”

Jay, Farmington and Wilton are the only Franklin County towns with 24 hour police coverage.

“It’s important,” Charles said. “I don’t think it’s something we can compromise. The demand on officers is getting greater and greater. Cases where they’re being asked to respond to, to investigate are becoming more involved.”

COVID-19 has resulted in significant increases in the number of juveniles in schools officers are dealing with criminally, as runaways or in crisis, he noted.

Approaching the University of Maine Farmington is one suggestion Charles has.

“There are a lot of people graduating with degrees that are very transferable to law enforcement,” he said. “Psychology majors, 75% of what we do is directly involved with the psychology of the person and being able to work with them. I think that is one piece.”

“The benefit of having their own cruiser must be a decent carrot,” Selectman Michael Fogg said.

“It is,” Charles said. “Cops like shiny things, new quality equipment that’s their own they can be proud of. When cruisers were shared…it becomes a morale issue. I’m very impressed with how they’re taking care of the cruisers. They take pride in them.”

It is the little things that sometimes mean a lot, he added.

When asked, Charles said the sheriff’s department has two positions to fill. One is a new position for the townships, the other is for a detective to replace Charles.

When extra hands are needed, Charles reaches out to the sheriff’s office. The state police are another option, he said.

Charles was thanked for his efforts by Selectman Chairman Matthew Smith. He spoke of his nephew, a police chief in Minnesota dealing with the same things.

“It’s a struggle for all,” Charles said. “I know we’re not the only ones.”

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