GREENVILLE, Maine — The Piscataquis County commissioners say sharing law enforcement duties with the Maine State Police may be an option worth considering given dwindling county finances, but Sheriff John Goggin says it won’t be an option on his watch.
At their meeting Tuesday in Greenville, the commissioners were told that the state police are more than willing to share patrol coverage with the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department, but for that to work everyone has to support the venture.
“The secret to resource coordination [call sharing] is total agreement by both sides; transparency and agreement,” state police Lt. Wesley Hussey said. “If you’re not going to get that, I guarantee it won’t work.”
If that’s the case, it won’t work in Piscataquis County because Goggin is totally against the program.
“As long as I’m sheriff, there will be no call-sharing agreement with the Maine State Police and this department,” declared Goggin, who did not attend the commissioners’ meeting. “It was a total disaster for this department” the last time it was tried, he said.
The commissioners decided to revisit the resource coordination program this week out of budget concerns. Goggin has spent 80.64 percent of his regular part-time budget and 79.84 percent of his overtime budget with about six months left in the year. The commissioners, who have warned Goggin twice that they would not approve any budget overdrafts in his accounts, reached out to Hussey to see what services could be shared to help Goggin’s department.
The state police and the Sheriff’s Department had such an agreement several years ago, but Goggin terminated it for several reasons, including a disconnect in the coverage of investigations, he said Tuesday. Goggin said residents would inquire about investigations into burglaries involving their homes or camps that were conducted by state police. The information the state police accumulated was never shared with his department, so his deputies had to conduct their own interviews for the same incident, thereby duplicating efforts, he said. In addition, he said, state police response times were slow.
Goggin said he had expected to discuss his budget with county officials Tuesday but decided not to attend the meeting. He said later that he had been unaware the commissioners planned to discuss call sharing, but he added that he was still stewing over a letter the commissioners had mailed to his part- and full-time patrol officers. The letter essentially advised the officers to make certain their services would be compensated considering the department’s dwindling funds.
“This was completely underhanded, unauthorized, over my head, over my authority,” Goggin said of the letter. He also faulted the commissioners’ effort to revisit call sharing. Any such agreement is between the sheriff and the state police, not the county commissioners, he said.
Hussey, whose department has resource coordination agreements with 13 of the 16 Maine counties, said those agreements have been in place for years. Somerset and Sagadahoc are the other counties that have no call-sharing agreements with state police.
“It’s a very good cooperative agreement. It works very well,” Hussey said. Such agreements are tailored specifically to each county, he explained. “They vary as to what they are. They are not a one-size-fits-all situation.”
Hussey said representatives of each department work together to craft an agreement that works for everybody. He called the agreement with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department “a holistic” program that incorporates many facets of law enforcement between the two agencies. Typically, state police respond to complaints in one part of the county during the week and the sheriff’s department responds in the other part, and then each department rotates coverage on Sunday for the next week, he noted.
Goggin admits call sharing works in some counties.
“This is a state police program and what they’re primarily interested in is not extending services to the taxpayers in Piscataquis. What they’re really looking for is numbers — it’s a numbers game to them,” he said. The more calls the state police receive, the better they look during budget time, he argued.
Hussey, however, told commissioners that the number of calls is not an issue. To his knowledge no police department or sheriff’s department has been closed because of the number of calls it did or did not receive in a year. He said there is enough work in Piscataquis County for all departments, including the four troopers who reside there.
Goggin said his department does just fine on its own. When the former agreement was in place, Goggin said, very frequently state police would have to call a trooper from outside the region to respond to calls in the zone it covered.
“What are you looking at there? You’re looking at time it took them to get to the complaint, you’re looking at a trooper who is not familiar with Piscataquis County, and a trooper who is not familiar with the people in it,” the sheriff said. In one instance, Goggin said, a complaint at Goulette’s IGA in Guilford was delayed an hour until the state trooper arrived, yet the county had a deputy who lived a few yards away. He also noted that the state has different union regulations and policies from the counties.
Hussey told commissioners that he had heard of Goggin’s past concerns, but noted that changes have been made over the years to improve the program. Every attempt was made to rectify those earlier problems, he said.
“The basics behind resource coordination is just to try and give the best bang for the buck to the public,” Hussey said, explaining that its intent is to streamline services and maximize sparse rural law enforcement resources.
Commissioner Eric Ward said Tuesday that residents don’t care what color uniform an officer wears, they just want immediate help in a crisis.
Commissioner Tom Lizotte said the resource coordination program is a viable option that shouldn’t be discounted.
“Our goal is very simple. We’d like to provide the best service to the taxpayers at a cost that they can afford,” he said. “All the ego, all the turf protection, that needs to be pushed to the side.
“The county commissioners are united that this is an absolute option that we need to look at, but we can’t force John Goggin to do this if he doesn’t want to,” Lizotte said. “We need a sheriff who is open to that possibility and willing to cooperate.”