SABATTUS — Residents on Tuesday voted to keep their Police Department and to spend $80,000 to help improve it.

The special town meeting was called to decide whether the department would stay or whether it would disband in favor of coverage by the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office. Roughly 80% voted in favor of keeping the local force.

More than 100 people turned out, forcing the meeting to be moved from the Town Hall to Oak Hill Middle School about a half mile away.

For a time, so many people filled the hall that the crowd was backed up to the doors as residents came to register to vote. Then, at the school, the crowd filled the parking lot until a city official came to unlock the doors.

“I’ve been at almost every town meeting for the past ten years,” said Sabattus resident Jeff Baril. “More people came out for this one than any I’ve ever seen. People have a clear understanding now that law enforcement services are in trouble and that’s not just in Sabattus.”

In the parking lot before the school doors were unlocked, most people said they came to support their local police.

A special town meeting was called Tuesday night in Sabattus to decide the fate of the Police Department. Mark LaFlamme/Sun Journal

The meeting itself grew feisty at times, with early signs that the vote would go in favor of the Police Department. When acting police Chief Dan Davies was called to the front of the room to answer questions, for instance, he was greeted by raucous applause.

“We want you here,” one man declared. “We support you.”

Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson was also called to answer questions about what his department would provide if the town voted that way.

Samson had already provided town leaders with a sample contract of the services he could make available to the town, including detectives, a domestic violence investigator and a crash reconstruction expert.

Prior to the vote, Davies stressed that neither he nor his officers have any conflict with the sheriff and his department.

“There is absolutely no ill will,” the chief said. “We work together. We work together well.”

When the vote came, it came in the form of the red-tipped paint stirrers Sabattus residents have been using to cast their votes for decades. In that fashion, roughly 80% voted in favor of keeping the department and providing extra funds to help it thrive.

Davies said the $80,200 is crucial to improving the department. The money will be used for salaries in hopes of attracting qualified police officers — and keeping officers after they are trained.

After the vote was taken, Samson said he understood that the majority of residents wanted to keep their department, but added that he understood why the Select Board had considered the option of going with county coverage.

Like most other departments across the country, Sabattus has had trouble keeping officers on staff — in Maine overall, several police departments are having trouble keeping their staff numbers up, including Lewiston.

In Mechanic Falls, the police department was down to just Chief Jeffrey Goss after several officers left for other departments. Other area police departments, including Dixfield police, have been dissolved for similar reasons.

In Mexico, with the support of the town board, the Police Department is offering a $10,000 signing bonus, a retirement package and cruiser privileges as incentives to fill two vacancies on its five-person force.

What remains to be seen in Sabattus is whether the vote of confidence and the extra funds for recruitment will enable the department to grow back to normal staffing levels. It’s a topic that concerns Baril, but he said he was encourage by the number of people who turned out for the meeting.

“The highlight of the night for me,” he said, “was to see that many people turn out to support their local police department and to participate in town government. To me, that was impressive.”


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