Bangor police chief proposes to trim officer duties

Posted Jan. 13, 2010, at 8:27 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Police Chief Ron Gastia has proposed changing or eliminating nearly a dozen minor responsibilities that fall under his patrol officers’ purview as part of an effort to streamline his department’s operations.

Gastia presented his intentions Tuesday to members of the City Council’s government operations committee, who responded favorably.

“Frankly, I couldn’t have been happier with their response,” the chief said Wednesday. “Every indication from councilors was that they were glad we were trying to be as forward thinking about finding ways to better utilize resources.”

Some of the changes being considered would allow officers to:

• Discontinue responding to complaints of lost or stolen property.

• Discontinue going to nonreportable motor vehicle accidents, those in which no one is injured and which result in less than $1,000 in damage.

• Discontinue releasing found property or evidence on the weekends.

• Discontinue taking patients to mental health facilities in cases of voluntary committals.

• Discontinue the practice of officers taking stray cats to the Bangor Humane Society.

Other, more substantive, potential changes include privatizing parking enforcement in the downtown area and changing the process for serving subpoenas.

Gastia said most of his proposed changes would not necessarily result in budget reductions, but they would allow his officers to make better use of their time. And time is money.

“It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile as our department call volume continues to go up,” he said. “Other departments have done this with success.”

The chief stressed that the police department would still handle all calls, but the means of reporting certain things might change. For instance, whenever possible, reports could be submitted online or over the phone rather than in person.

Councilor Hal Wheeler, who is chairman of the government operations committee, was impressed with the chief’s presentation and supported the changes.

“Anything that could be done to reduce overhead costs within department should be looked at,” Wheeler said. “The increase in the number of assaults, domestic disturbances, thefts and burglaries over the past year has certainly put quite a toll on officers.”

Gastia doesn’t expect everyone to respond as favorably as city councilors did. Some members of the public are so used to the police department operating a certain way that any changes will be met with resistance.

“Right now, we’re letting the public know that we’re considering a number of changes,” he said. “Nothing has been finalized yet, but the council did support my discretion to make operational changes as I see fit.”

Wheeler said Bangor has changed significantly in recent years, particularly in the evening hours, and so too have demands on the city’s police officers.

“Bangor after dark has become a very different place. It’s astonishing,” he said. “Certainly, we want to make the highest and best use of the officers we have.”

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