A veteran police officer who has experience rebuilding police departments has been selected as the new police chief and tasked with stabilizing the Machias Police Department.

Keith Mercier, who has worked in law enforcement for the past 35 years, is expected to start Nov. 1. His salary will be $61,000 a year, according to Machias Town Manager Bill Kitchen.

One of Mercier’s first tasks as police chief will be to re-staff the Machias Police Department, which has three vacancies for full-time patrol officers. There are, at the moment, no full-time officers on staff. While the town does have part-time, on-call officers who have been able to fill occasional patrol shifts, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office has essentially been handling all police calls in Machias since July, when Todd Hand, the previous chief, resigned after 18 months on the job.

Mercier is a detective sergeant for the University of Maine Police Department, where he has worked since 2010. He said that he hadn’t been looking for a chief’s job until he saw that the Machias job was vacant. It intrigued him. He has experience rebuilding police departments in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he worked under a State Department contract from 2007 until 2010.

“Staffing is job one,” said Mercier, who also anticipates handing patrol duties until the department has a full roster again. “I know they’ve been struggling [with staffing and turnover] and the opportunity to build a police department really appealed to me.”

Kitchen said that Mercier’s experience in building police departments overseas, and his familiarity with the UMaine system, were appealing to Machias town officials.

The town has been trying to establish closer ties with the University of Maine at Machias — which has been a regional campus of Orono-based University of Maine since 2017 — since before Todd Hand was hired as chief in late 2019. UMaine, in turn, has offered an apartment at its Machias campus to Mercier to use while he and his wife try to find a local home to buy. The Merciers live in Orrington.

“You’ve got to play well with everybody,” Kitchen said, adding that Mercier’s familiarity and friendly relationship with Washington County Sheriff Barry Curtis also is seen as a plus. “It’s a huge priority for me.”

When Hand was chief, the town invested in the police department by moving it to a renovated space in a town-owned building on Stackpole Road, upgrading its computer and phone systems, and acquiring new patrol cruisers. The department is essentially “turn-key” ready, Kitchen said, and now just needs officers.

Prior to his State Department overseas contract, Mercier worked for the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office from September 2002 to February 2007. Before that, he worked for Hampden Police Department from March 1986 to September 1991 and for Bangor Police Department from October 1991 through August 2002, according to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

Mercier will fill a position that has been vacant since July. Hand had been the chief since late 2019, roughly six months after the town had fired the previous chief, Grady Dwelley, who had been chief since 2003.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....