May 27, 2018
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Eastport addressing recommendations for police department, says city manager

By Tim Cox, BDN Staff

EASTPORT, Maine — A study of the Eastport Police Department that resulted in 55 recommendations for improvements is being addressed, and the police chief and city manager are working toward implementing the suggestions.

The recommendations seek to address a number of deficiencies and make improvements in the police department. They touch on administration, community relations, record keeping, policies and procedures, training, facilities and equipment. Examples include executing formal mutual aid agreements with other law enforcement agencies, regular evaluations for all members of the department, development of a manual on policies and procedures and the establishment of a formal training and career development program.

The study’s authors also stressed that those interviewed were satisfied with the delivery of police services and felt safe living in Eastport.

The study was conducted by a three-member panel from the Maine Chiefs of Police Association — Hampden Police Chief Joseph L. Rogers, Old Town Police Chief Donald O’Halloran and Orono Police Chief Gary Duquette. It was based on information provided by the Eastport Police Department and interviews with the chief and subordinates, the city councilors, city manager, representatives of the district attorney’s office, area law enforcement officers and others.

The 55 recommendations — contained in a report issued in March — for improving the police department included five “external” suggestions dealing with the duties of the city manager, department heads and the City Council.

There was some dissatisfaction among the City Council with the police department, which prompted the governing body to seek the study, Councilor Michael Cummings acknowledged on Wednesday. The council vote to commission the study was 4-1, and Cummings cast the only vote against it — primarily because of the cost, about $6,000.

“I still think it was a waste of money,” Cummings said.

The police department, under the direction of Chief Mark Emery, provides 24-hour coverage with a chief, sergeant, two full-time patrol officers, and 13 part-time police officers. Emery did not immediately respond to a call Wednesday to discuss the study report.

The authors determined the annual cost of the city’s police department at $241.55 per capita based on a population of 1,331, according to the 2013 census. The study did not compare Eastport’s per capita cost with that of other cities with similar populations.

However, the study did note that the number of Eastport police officers per 1,000 of population is substantially higher than the Maine average and other cities in Washington County of comparable or higher population.

Eastport has 3.76 officers per 1,000 population. Calais, with a population of 3,116, has 2.56 officers per 1,000; and Baileyville, population 1,531, 1.97 officers per 1,000. Machias has a population of 1,274 with 1.80 officers per 1,000. The Maine average is 1.70 officers per 1,000 population.

The study did not propose changes specific to the number of Eastport police officers per capita but offered two recommendations related to staffing: that the chief review the patrol schedule for adequate police presence during appropriate times, and that he schedule a part-time officer during the week to help with court responsibilities.

The most recommendations, 10, were proposed under the heading of administration of the police department. One of these called on the police department and city administration “to develop a working relationship based on mutual respect and trust.” The same section noted that the administration of discipline “is a universal concern of officers. They regard discipline as unequal, inconsistent and not timely.” A related recommendation suggested that discipline should be administered with prior warnings yet be immediate, consistent and impersonal. The section narrative urged Emery to observe officers performing their duties in the community, to publicly recognize them and to “show an interest in their professional and personal lives.”

The panel indicated it spoke with a representative of the Washington County office of the district attorney — without identifying the representative — “who did not portray the Eastport Police Department in a positive light. There was concern about reports not being done on cases or not submitted in a timely fashion.” The panel recommended, “Eastport PD needs to mend their relationship with the District Attorney’s Office. The Chief should reach out to the District Attorney and develop a game plan to reconcile this relationship.”

Among other things, the study found fault with the department’s data processing and record keeping operations. The department uses two systems for these tasks, an in-house computer and a system in conjunction with the Washington County Regional Communications Center.

“It is apparent to the review panel that the present method of record keeping is not working,” the panel wrote. “When attempts were made to retrieve reports, we were met with no success. The ability to track and retrieve reports is a basic fundamental function of a police department.” The study recommended eliminating the in-house computer system, and having the chief weekly check complaint numbers and ensure that reports are being completed and finished timely.

City Manager Larry Post, who replaced former city manager Jon Southern in April, said Wednesday he is making progress on implementing the handful of recommendations that relate to his position. Department heads have begun submitting monthly activity reports to him, and in September he will begin holding monthly meetings with department heads. He said City Council members “are doing better” to direct concerns or recommendations through him — one of the study’s suggestions — instead of through department heads.

Another recommendation addressed apparent weakness in the working relationship between the police department and the city administration. “Police and the city administration need to develop a working relationship based on mutual respect and trust that can address the public safety needs of the city collaboratively.” Since the study report was issued in March and Post did not begin his duties until April, it is clear the recommendation was not aimed at him.

Post said that he and Emery “have an excellent working relationship. We work well together, and I have nothing but respect for him. … We are looking forward to making all the rest of these improvements happen and moving this city forward.”

Most of the recommendations were administrative in nature, observed Post. “At the same time, we do take them seriously.”

He is engaged in a “constant dialogue” with Emery about implementing the recommendations. Post characterized Emery as “absolutely” receptive and moving forward to accomplish them.

A number of recommendations already have been implemented and others are in various stages of completion, said Post.

With respect to the recommendation regarding the district attorney, Post said Emery reached out to the prosecutor’s office immediately after the report was issued and has continued to have ongoing discussions with the district attorney staff.

In summarizing the report objectives, the panel noted the study should be considered a “blueprint for the future,” adding, “The report is not to be construed as a ‘report card’ of the Eastport Police Department since it does not fully explore the many positive activities presently undertaken by the department.”

In its conclusion, the panel wrote, “The people this panel talked to were satisfied with the delivery of police services and feel comfortable and secure living in Eastport. This is what successful law enforcement organizations do.”

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