AUGUSTA, Maine — A small, new Maine State Police motorcycle unit that began with an “out of nowhere” request from former Gov. Paul LePage nearly a year ago will be rolled out formally in April.
Without legislative approval and using $171,000 in existing funds, the Maine State Police bought six motorcycles toward the end of 2018, along with trailers for the new unit, which will largely be used part time for ceremonial purposes and to promote recruitment with limited operational use that could include work at parades and other congested scenes.
Motorcycles were the first mode of transportation for the state police. The first three officers who died in the line of duty for the agency were killed in motorcycle crashes and the first 46 cars purchased by the agency in 1936 were traded for 47 Harley-Davidsons and 25 sidecars. The state police auctioned off its last motorcycles in 1954, according to an online state police history.
At least two Maine departments — South Portland and Scarborough — have motorcycle units, as do all other New England state police departments except Vermont. It’s a small amount of money for the Maine State Police, whose annual budget stands at $60 million. But the unit was established quietly under LePage by reallocating funds, and the co-chair of the legislative panel overseeing police said she didn’t know about it this week.
At the end of his tenure in December 2018, LePage issued a tweet referencing the new unit. In response to questions about it in January, department spokesman Stephen McCausland said the motorcycles would be unveiled publicly at an April 12 state police graduation ceremony.
On Friday, the state police explained the unit’s mission in a Facebook post before granting a Bangor Daily News request for financial records and emails on Monday under public access laws. After that, McCausland provided more information, including policies that will govern it.
The push for the unit kicked off in April 2018, when Lt. Col. John Cote of the state police emailed a counterpart in New Hampshire, asking for advice after what he said was an “out of nowhere” request from LePage to explore costs and steps related to it. However, Cote said in a written response to questions that the agency had previously wanted motorcycles.
Cote was running the agency on an interim basis then and would be nominated days later to lead it. He is now a colonel. Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman for LePage’s political group, deferred to the state police when asked why he wanted the motorcycle unit, but the former governor’s Facebook post cited the agency’s history and that he wanted it by the end of his tenure.
The state police informed troopers that the unit was on track to begin in late May, candidates for riding positions were interviewed in July and the agency paid $5,700 in expenses between September and February related to training from the Connecticut State Police in that state.
In October, Cote emailed the state police’s social media coordinator to say he was going to post pictures of the motorcycles on his Instagram page. His aim was to get the word out “s…l…o…w…l…y” so the motorcycles didn’t “come out of nowhere,” saying his limited following was enough to “get the ball rolling” to prevent the unit from being derailed by “haters.”
By November, the state police were drafting policies governing the unit, and Cote expressed a desire to “get the bikes in front of the governor soon.” The Harley-Davidson motorcycles were purchased that month and LePage got a viewing on Dec. 28. Gov. Janet Mills took over for the Republican on Jan. 2 and no money is requested for the unit in her two-year budget.
Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, who co-chairs the Legislature’s criminal justice committee, said she knew nothing about the motorcycle unit. Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, the co-chair of the Transportation Committee, said he thought it was a “good idea.” Spokespeople for Mills, a Democrat, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Trooper Aaron Turcotte, the former president of the Maine State Troopers Association, said bringing back motorcycles is “long overdue. He said they “bring back a lot of history” that can be shared with the public as the agency’s 100th anniversary in 2021 approaches.
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