ROCKLAND, Maine — City councilors on Monday vehemently opposed accepting a grant from U.S. Customs and Border Protection that would provide funding for the city’s police department.
Rockland city councilors worried that accepting the $7,000 grant — which is available to Maine municipalities that qualify as a border city or town — would affiliate them with an organization that has garnered a controversial reputation through its enforcement practices.
“I don’t want to be a partner with an organization that I feel is unethical, racist, often performing illegal behavior,” City Councilor Valli Geiger said. “I just think we are who we hang out with, and we have worked hard in Rockland to have an excellent reputation and I think it would hurt us to partner with such an organization.”
Since Rockland is located on the coast, the harbor is viewed as a potential point of entry into the U.S. and therefore qualifies for border protection funding. The funding is administered at the state level by the Maine Emergency Management Agency, although U.S. Customs and Border Protection oversees the grant program.
A majority of council voted against receiving the funding, which would be used to support community policing, at their meeting Monday night. Only Mayor Lisa Westkaemper voted in favor of the funding.
Rockland Police Chief Chris Young said the grant was being considered because it would provide the department with funding that would allow for more of its officers to work additional shifts focused specifically on community policing patrols in an attempt to gather information about illegal activities, such as drug and human trafficking.
Young emphasized that the grant was not affiliated with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is a sister agency of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
Young said that at no point would Rockland officers be investigating someone’s immigration status if the department received the funding. “There is no nexus between this funding opportunity and immigration enforcement,” Young said. “I can assure you if that were the case I would absolutely be against this program.”
However, some city councilors felt accepting the money potentially could put the police department in a position where it could be asked to undertake tasks it might not have originally agreed to do.
“You have to be careful who you are aligning yourselves with,” City Councilor Ed Glaser said. “I think some of the things that they would like us to do in terms of intelligence gathering and being ears and eyes on the waterfront for the, isn’t something we would like our law enforcement to be doing.”