A crime lab technician enters a building in Ellsworth where police said they came across evidence that methamphetamine was being manufactured in an apartment inside in this 2015 file photo. Credit: Bill Trotter

AUGUSTA, Maine — Many of the approximately 20 civilian employees of the Maine State Police crime lab and the agency’s unit that investigates child pornography lobbied legislators on Wednesday to add them to a special retirement plan for public safety workers.

The Maine State Employees Association is backing a bill from Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, that would allow those workers — many of whom gave emotional testimony at Wednesday’s hearing — to join a plan that would allow them to retire earlier, alongside nearly 1,300 public safety employees, including forest rangers, corrections workers and fire marshals.

All states have different pension plans for public safety workers and other employees as a way of recognizing the physical and mental toll of police work. Most Maine state employees — nearly 11,000 in all — can retire with a pension after reaching 25 years of service and the ages of 60, 62 or 65. Approximately 500 state police and game wardens must simply serve 25 years.

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For now, the civilian employees who work with the crime lab to support police investigations qualify for the regular pension plan. Because they equate the stress that their work causes with that of frontline law enforcement officers, they want to join a pension program established in 1998 for public safety workers who are allowed to retire at age 55 after 25 years of service.

It’s unclear how much that would cost.

Workers in the Maine State Police’s crime lab conduct DNA, fingerprint, firearms, gunshot and blood analysis to provide forensic support to all state law enforcement agencies, while the Computer Crimes Unit investigates all computer crimes, including child pornography.

Several testified in support of Diamond’s bill at a hearing before the Legislature’s labor committee on Wednesday. They cited the emotional toll of their jobs, and many said they feel under-trained to deal with the graphic scenes and videos that they investigate.

Some computer crimes workers said tasks such as changing their child’s diaper could evoke memories of the child pornography videos that they investigate. After hearing similarly wrenching testimony from a series of workers who testified, Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland, the panel’s co-chair, was in tears when he rose to leave after being called to testify before another committee.

Victoria Brennan, a Computer Crimes Unit analyst from Gardiner, said she recently worked on a case including a video of a man bouncing a laughing infant on his knee before raping the child. Brennan said the infant’s “screams now haunt me.”

“I think I speak for my colleagues as well as myself when I say everyone has their expiration date when it comes to this kind of trauma,” she said.

Diamond’s proposal will be considered by the committee before likely moving to the chambers of the Legislature for votes later this year. The administration of Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, didn’t testify at the hearing on the bill.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...