Todd Hand, the new chief of the Machias Police Department, has a lot on his plate. But he said Wednesday that the work he has to do goes beyond hiring new officers, replacing phone and computer systems he described as “horrible,” and removing garbage from a police station that he would ultimately like to move.
His goal, he said, is to revamp the entire mindset of the small department he now leads so it operates more professionally and is more accessible to Machias residents.
“I realize the agency has been in turmoil,” Hand said. “What I am concerned about is the culture of the agency.”
In its recent history, the department has lacked basic organization such as a standard procedure for how it fields and follows through on complaints, Hand said. Now in charge of the three-officer force, Hand said he wants to make the department more accessible to the public and more accountable for how it handles calls and requests.
Hand replaces Grady Dwelley, the town’s prior longtime police chief who was dismissed last summer for a reason the town has not publicly disclosed. After initially saying Dwelley had been terminated, town officials said they later reached a separation agreement with Dwelley in exchange for his not filing a grievance. As part of the agreement, the town paid Dwelley $8,800 in severance for his 16 years as Machias’ police chief.
Hand said that one of his more pressing tasks as the new chief is to hire more officers to join him and the two other full-time officers currently on staff. Sgt. Wade Walker — who essentially ran the department by himself between Dwelley’s departure and Hand’s start on Jan. 1 — will remain in his position, while Tyler Dunbar, the former police chief in Gouldsboro, started last month as a patrol officer.
Hand said he would like to hire two more full-time officers to ensure that Machias has regular patrol coverage 24 hours a day. He has a list of six people who have been working as reserve officers in Machias whom he plans to continue to use on an as-needed basis to help fill gaps in coverage, such as when regular officers are on vacation or out sick, he said.
The new chief said he and other town officials have talked with the University of Maine at Machias about establishing an additional school resource officer position that the town and university campus would share. The officer would work full time, primarily at the university and at the town’s elementary and high schools during the academic year, and then would pick up more regular patrols during the summer, when more tourists and seasonal residents are in town.
Hand — who comes to Machias from Unity College, where he taught conservation law enforcement after working for 34 years in law enforcement in Florida and Pennsylvania — said it is important that the town and the university have a good relationship, and that sharing a school resource officer will help ensure that they do.
A spokeswoman with the university said Wednesday in a brief email that ongoing discussion of the shared school resource officer idea “is very preliminary and, at this point, is only a possibility that may be explored.”
Hand also would like to hire, with approval from selectmen, a part-time administrative assistant to help handle some of the department’s paperwork and to free up more officer time for investigations and following through on complaints.
And he would like to upgrade the department’s communications and IT equipment. Both the department’s phone and computer systems are “horrible,” he said, and he would like the town to provide cellphones to full-time officers so they can communicate more effectively with residents.
Hand also wants to move the department from its current location on MacDonald Drive to a more central location in town. He said he does not have a specific site in mind.
“I’m not at all excited or happy with that location,” Hand said, referring to the current office off Route 192. “The station is not consistent with effective policing, and I want to move it.”
The current office is a “mess,” he said, adding that he has filled and removed “many bags of garbage” from the existing police station.
Hand said he is not looking for the town to build new offices, but he would like a location that is more convenient to the public and that has more storage. Improving the department’s accessibility, both in terms of location and communication, will help boost its professionalism and the public’s confidence in the agency.
“That’s all part of the culture that needs to change,” Hand said.
While the department is looking to upgrade its phone system, he said, officers can be contacted by calling Washington County’s emergency dispatch center at 207-255-8308 or by calling Hand directly at 207-263-8436.