Sheriffs’ departments throughout the state have long relied upon the Maine State Police to supplement patrol coverage in rural areas.

But with a change in mission, that assistance is steadily disappearing, leaving counties scrambling to fill the void.

The pullback from rural patrols will allow troopers to focus more on highway safety along the Maine Turnpike and interstate system, and to conduct criminal investigations. Their presence hasn’t completely evaporated yet, but Maine State Police cruisers are becoming less visible in rural Maine.

Maine State Police slow traffic in December at the scene of a tractor-trailer accident south of the Newport exit on Interstate 95. As Maine State Police refocuses its efforts more on patrolling the interstate, it is limiting or pulling out of rural patrol coverage all together in some counties such as Somerset and Oxford. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file photo

“There is a presence. They are still here,” Oxford County Sheriff Christopher Wainwright said. “But their focus is obviously now the turnpike and the interstate and their specialties.”

“In my conversations with the State Police Troop C, Troop Commander Lt. Jason Madore, the State Police are focusing their troopers to the Interstate 95 system,” Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said. “I was advised by the troop commander that Troop C is going to be implementing a midnight shift on the interstate system.  . . . The troop commander requested that the Sheriff’s Office assume the responsibility of primary calls for service in Somerset County.”

In Somerset County, state police patrol the interstate from mile 109 to 157, which is Augusta to Newport.


According to the state’s supplemental budget, state police are looking to add 18.5 new positions at a cost of $2.6 million. None are earmarked for rural patrol.

Earlier this year, according to the Bangor Daily News, Col. John Cote, chief of the Maine State Police, wrote to Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton seeking to cut back coverage.

“We cannot continue under the parameters of an agreement created over two decades ago when our staffing has diminished, and you have been successful in adding frontline personnel during that same period,” Cote said.

The added personnel, however, are assigned to a specific municipality by contract and are not available for rural patrols.

The same discussion is happening in Kennebec County, which lost some of its coverage two years ago. A push for further cuts this year led Patrol Lt. Chris Read to call the move away from rural patrols a “state unfunded mandate” in a memo to Kennebec County Administrator Scott Ferguson.

“The state police are making a mission/vision change and are pushing costs off to the county,” Read wrote in the memo on Wednesday, asking Ferguson “was this change approved by the Legislature?”


Read estimates that adding more personnel could result in a 7% to 8% tax increase in Kennebec County, noting that adding personnel would not be possible without permanent funding from the state. “I am waiting for MSA (Maine Sheriffs’ Association), the Legislature or both to come up with a solution other than pushing cost to the property tax,” Read wrote.

The change has occurred gradually the past few years, with some counties losing coverage earlier than others.

Oxford County ended its call-sharing agreement back in 2013 when then-Sheriff Wayne Gallant complained that the weekly rotation left gaps in coverage. At the time, there were nine state troopers assigned to Oxford County.

Wainwright, the current sheriff, said a couple of state troopers can still be spotted in Oxford County, but he’s not sure how long that may last.

“A lot of the tasks they have now are needed statewide,” Wainwright said. “We can’t justify some of their specialties they can provide to us. I’ve talked to the colonel on numerous occasions and understand the constraints he’s under.”

Wainwright says a bigger concern for him is finding and keeping deputies. Nearly every law enforcement department in the state is looking to hire officers from a limited pool of applicants, he said.


With two current vacancies and the danger of losing what little daily assistance Oxford County has from state police, his options are limited.

“We’d like to have more manpower,” Wainwright said. “Everybody would, but it’s a balance for the taxpayer. The county budget comes from the property taxpayer, and they really can’t afford their taxes going up even more, so it’s a struggle.”

State police stopped routine patrolling in Franklin County in 2019.  Prior to that the agencies shared patrol of the north and south in the county.

That all changed when state police could not continue to do regular patrols due to a manpower crisis. But, if the county needed to have a shift filled and gave enough lead time, a state police trooper would cover the shift, Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr. said.

State police still assist the county with specialized needs with an incident, Nichols said. The police have a variety of equipment that his office doesn’t have, such as drones. They also help with reconstruction of accidents, if needed.

To help fill the gap, Nichols received permission from Franklin County commissioners in 2019 to add a deputy focused on unorganized territories. He also received permission to buy a cruiser. The initial cost was $111,000, but future costs are expected to be lower.


“Ideally, I could use three more deputies out there, but financially we cannot afford it,” Nichols said.  “We’re just doing our patrols but also backing up local police departments.”

Androscoggin County lost its state police coverage in July 2020, said Sheriff Eric Samson.

“We have already dealt with that,” Samson said. “We changed the call sharing agreement when we would rotate the county coverage every month.”

For example, using the Androscoggin River as a divider, state police troopers would cover Wales, Greene and Leeds, while the county would be responsible for Livermore, Livermore Falls, Durham and Minot. After one month, the two agencies would switch coverage.

Without that partnership, Samson added two patrol deputies through a federal grant to help fill the void created by the loss of four state troopers. Despite the loss, Samson said state police are still just a phone call away.

“If we need assistance, we can call them,” he said.


Sheriff Lancaster said Somerset County is currently averaging approximately 15,000 calls for service a year. But with the request for the county to assume responsibility for all calls for service not related to I-95, he expects a big increase in calls.

Starting on March 18, calls for service not related to the interstate that were going to the Augusta Communications Center were transferred to the Somerset Regional Communications Center.

“I am anticipating that we will receive somewhere between 1,000 to 1,200 additional calls for service,” Lancaster said. “The state police commander did say that if the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office needed a trooper response or a specialty team response, they would honor the request. Presently I am working with the county commissioners and the Budget Committee to add an additional patrol deputy to handle the increase in calls for service.”

In Kennebec County, state police asked the sheriff’s office if it was hiring more deputies and whether there is duplication of patrols in the town of China, said Ferguson. There is no contract with China and the county is not hiring additional deputies, citing rising taxes.

The county is pushing to have the issue discussed by the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, where Somerset County Sheriff Lancaster serves as president.

Staff writers Jessica Lowell, Amy Calder and Donna Perry contributed to this report.

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