HERMON, Maine — The opportunity to weigh in on the community’s police needs drew more than 20 people to an informal gathering Tuesday night with three southern Maine police chiefs tapped to help the town determine what it needs in terms of police services.
In recent months, Hermon officials have been contemplating whether they want to improve their current police coverage arrangement or establish a police department of their own. Among the questions they are trying to answer are what level of law enforcement services residents think are needed and what are they willing to spend.
The independent assessment was conducted this week by a three-member team from the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, according to Town Manager Roger Raymond.
Serving on the team are Falmouth Police Chief Ed Tolan, Yarmouth Police Chief Michael Morrill and Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton. All three are law enforcement veterans. Their report and recommendations are expected to be available in early April.
The decision to commission the study was prompted by the state’s biggest bath salts bust to date — possibly the largest in New England, a recent outcry over sex offender notification procedures and a proposal to post armed police officers in the town’s public schools.
In addition, the community last year saw an apparent drug-related home invasion shooting death.
A lot of ground was covered during Tuesday night’s two-hour discussion, which drew residents, municipal and school officials and members of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, which currently provides Hermon’s police coverage through a contractual arrangement.
Among the topics discussed were the merits of having a school resource officer on board, the community policing concept, police coverage currently available in Hermon, training opportunities and changes in school security in the aftermath of the recent school shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Residents and police also tackled recent criminal activity, including burglaries at homes and at some of the town’s industrial parks.
Resident Deborah Farnham was among those who wanted police to provide a crime snapshot.
“I want to know — are we a violent community? Do we have a lot of burglaries. Do we have a lot of drugs, I mean aside from [the record bath salts bust] on the New Boston Road?”
This kind of information, she said, could help her and other residents get a better sense of what Hermon needs in terms police coverage.
The representative of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office recommended that residents focus more on the nature of calls than the number.
“It’s not just the calls,” Penobscot County Chief Deputy Troy Morton said. By way of example, Morton asked the audience to assume that in a given year, Hermon might generate 1,000 calls for police service, but only 900 the following year.
“So it looks like crime’s gone down, right? But that’s not the truth,” he said. “What we’re seeing over the past five years is the complexity, the violence and the seriousness of the crimes dramatically changing.
“Look what’s happened here in town. You had a drug case that is clearly, if not [just] the state’s largest, New England’s largest seizure of bath salts. That’s one number,” he said. “That shooting that occurred here in town was one number.
“Those [cases] generated hundreds and hundreds of manpower hours for sheriffs’ investigators, state police investigators [and] all of Hermon’s deputies out here. So it’s not just the numbers,” he said.
In response to Farnham’s questions, Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross had this to say:
“You’re a safe community, but you’re also close to Bangor. You bisect with the interstate and major routes 2, 202 and 15. All these routes converge here,” he said, adding that when roads are slick during the morning commute, there sometimes is a rash of motor vehicle crashes.
“You have a lot of burglaries that happen here in your town. You have drug-related offenses. You’ve had a number of suicides that have happened in your town,” he said. “So across the board, I would say Hermon is a very safe community to live in but it’s also a very busy community for law enforcement.”
Ross said that the sheriff’s department would provide the study panel a variety of data showing the kinds of activities and problems police have encountered in Hermon.