BERWICK, Maine — As area police departments struggle with the growing heroin use epidemic, Berwick Police Chief Tim Towne is trying to find a way to add another officer to his force.
Towne said there’s been a need for additional officers for years so he requested one additional officer in his budget proposal.
“We handled 10,996 calls last year. I wanted another full-time person,” Towne said. “We have been running essentially with the same staff we had in 1989.”
Towne said recognizing that money is a tremendous issue he looked for a way to offset the cost of the new officer by exploring whether another community could provide dispatch services, currently handled by South Berwick, at a lower cost.
“I started looking at dispatch and put out some soft inquires to Kittery and Wells.” Towne said. “Responses were very positive … both towns offered contracts to do dispatch at a cost significantly lower than what I had been paying.”
Patrick Venne, town manager at the time, let South Berwick know that there might be a change.
After Venne resigned Towne worked with Interim Manager Gary Stenhouse who encouraged him to get hard numbers from both communities interested in providing dispatch services.
“Using boilerplate contracts with a solid dollar figure from each community that could be presented to the board of selectmen.”
When Towne presented his budget he did not have the final numbers but still made a strong pitch for the added support. “I was going to try and offset the cost of the new position in part,” Towne said.
The budget committee agreed to the need but said there is no money.
“I spoke about the surge of heroin abuse that we have seen in the last 18 months,” Towne said. “We had over a dozen heroin overdoses in the last year alone.”
According to Towne there have also been two deaths recently and some of the overdoses are happening in public places.
“If you want to change the face of downtown, the police are on the front lines of making those changes and I need more officers.”
Towne said the select board was very supportive and agreed another position is needed but there is just no money.
Towne said his budget would be presented at town meeting without the desired full time position but funded based on remaining with South Berwick dispatch.
Meanwhile, Towne said he would continue to explore potential savings that might be gained by changing dispatch providers.
“It seems that there could be significant savings to the town at this point.”
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