Nearly 100 Gouldsboro residents have signed a petition in favor of disbanding the local police department and contracting with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department for regular police coverage.
Gouldsboro voters will decide the matter at the town’s annual elections Tuesday, June 11.
On Monday, approximately 150 people gathered at Peninsula School, including the town’s police chief and the county sheriff, to discuss the idea. Most of the discussion focused on how the cost of a coverage contract with the sheriff’s department might compare to the town’s police budget.
Local resident Becky Irwin said she circulated the petition and collected signatures because the issue of whether Gouldsboro needs it own police department has been “stewing” in the community for some time. She said she is mainly concerned about the increasing cost of running the department, which consists solely of two full-time officers — including Chief Tyler Dunbar — and one part-time officer.
Dunbar said that the department’s annual budget is approximately $207,000, which is around $1,000 higher than it has been in immediate past years but 3 percent less than the $214,000 he requested for the town’s 2019-20 annual budget. The town’s budget committee has since reduced the proposed police budget for next year to $208,000, which is roughly $1,000 higher than it is now.
He said the reason the police budget has been going up is because of cost increases for items such as insurance and equipment, which are routine. He said his goal in asking for more money is to ensure that the department has what it needs in terms of qualified officers, training and police equipment.
Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane said that his department could contract with the town to provide regular coverage, just as it does already with Stonington, Swan’s Island and Tremont. He said the cost depends on what sort of coverage the town wants — how many hours it wants to have a deputy on patrol in Gouldsboro — and whether the town would retain ownership of its police cruisers or whether the sheriff’s department would provide them.
“I’m not here to tell anyone what you should do,” Kane said. “I’m just here to answer questions.”
At times the discussion seemed to veer away from one about costs to one about Dunbar’s job performance.
Local resident Sue Ruffner said she has been arrested by Dunbar and felt he had treated her fairly when he did so. She started to describe another incident in which she had filed a complaint about someone else when the meeting moderator, attorney Gary Hunt of Hancock, cut her off, saying that the proper procedure for filing complaints about the department is to do so at the town office. Complaints about officers should be filed with the chief, while any complaints about the chief should be filed with the town manager, town officials said.
Local resident Avery Scott said some people in town support disbanding the department because of their opinion of Dunbar, not because of concerns about cost.
“I used to be one of Gouldsboro’s finest criminals,” said Scott, whose criminal history includes setting another man’s boat on fire. “There are people in town who would spend $1 million to get rid of this man. It’s not about the budget. Not totally.”
Gouldsboro has a history of getting rid of its police chiefs.
In 2016, Paul Gamble was fired from the position after town officials faulted him for using a town credit card to pay for gas in his personal pickup truck, according to a lawsuit he subsequently filed against the town. The next year, Gamble settled the lawsuit with the town for $67,500, the weekly Ellsworth American newspaper reported.
Dunbar, a Gouldsboro native, said it can be difficult for a police officer to work in a small town where he or she grew up, but he declined to get into whether his familiarity with the town and many of its residents has made people more vocal in their criticism. He said that since he became chief only two complaints about the department have been submitted to selectmen and that both were unfounded.
Dunbar said people sometimes share inaccurate information about the department on social media, which is one reason why he has equipped his officers and cruisers, including himself, with body and dashboard cameras.
“You have to charge people you grew up with your whole life,” he said. “I try to treat people [impartially], even though it can be very difficult.”
Dana Rice, chairman of Gouldsboro’s board of selectmen, declined Tuesday to comment on Dunbar’s job performance, saying he did not want his personal impressions to affect the outcome of the upcoming vote. He did say that the town has not taken any disciplinary action against Dunbar since Dunbar joined the department in 2014.
“I want voters to make up their minds on this,” Rice said.