SWAN’S ISLAND, Maine — In a move aimed at saving money and management headaches, this island town has decided to put its police department on ice.
But it has not decided to forgo having a law enforcement presence on the island, located a roughly six-mile, 40 minute ferry crossing away from Mount Desert Island. Instead, it has contracted with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department to have a deputy live and work on the island full time.
Rob Morang, a deputy with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, moved last month with his family into an apartment located above the town office, which the town has used to provide housing to past police chiefs who owned homes off island. On July 1, Morang began serving as the island’s law enforcement officer.
Dexter Lee, a Swan’s Island selectman, said Thursday the town decided to switch its approach when the prior police chief, Paul Gamble, took a job in Gouldsboro, where he lives. Gamble’s last day on the job was May 29.
Lee said that for the past two decades or so, the town has funded its own police department — consisting of at least one chief and frequently one or two part-time officers — but has had frequent turnover of its police chiefs and difficulty in making sure its officers were adequately certified.
Gamble, who has been chief for less than three years, recently has not had any part-time officers to oversee due to difficulty in filling the posts, Lee said.
By contracting with the sheriff’s department, he added, the town avoids having to pay for training or to oversee personnel issues.
“It gets us out of the administrative headaches,” Lee said. “We ship the complaints [to the sheriff] in Ellsworth now.”
Should Morang be unavailable, Lee added, it would be up to the sheriff’s department to find an officer to fill in and to make sure the town’s contract is being fulfilled.
Morang has said he is “excited” about becoming the designated deputy for Swan’s Island. Attempts to contact him on Thursday were unsuccessful.
Lee said the town has a six-month contract for $50,000 that calls for Morang to police the island for 42.5 hours each week. The town will use money in its current annual law enforcement budget of $98,000 to fund the expense. Lee said Morang is using Gamble’s old cruiser and that, in another year or so, the town likely will use $35,000 it has in reserve to purchase a new cruiser.
Lee said that the town did not consider going without a dedicated law enforcement presence on Swan’s Island, which has about 350 year-round residents and more than 1,000 in the summer. That level of population, he said, warrants more than just relying on the sheriff’s department or Maine State Police to send an officer out to the island when an emergency or criminal complaint arises.