As the town's police department struggles with attracting and retaining officers, Thomaston residents will be voting in June on whether or not to keep the town's police department or contract with the Knox County Sheriff's Office for coverage. Credit: Lauren Abbate / BDN

Two years ago, Thomaston Police Chief Tim Hoppe was the only full-time officer that the town had as the department struggled to retain and recruit officers.

It got to the point where the town considered closing the department entirely. But residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of keeping their police force. With the addition of better benefits, Hoppe has been able to build back his department to a roster of five full-time officers.

At this year’s town meeting, voters will be faced with a much different ballot question regarding police services: to add a new full-time position to the department for the first time in more than two decades, increasing the roster to six full-time officers.

By adding an additional officer, Hoppe said it will allow for the department’s detective to focus solely on investigative work when on duty, instead of being called out to 911 calls. It will also ensure that the department can keep up with the increase in calls due to commercial growth within the town.

“When we are fully staffed we are barely just getting by and that’s because you only need one bump in the road to throw everything off,” Hoppe said.

During the June 8 annual town meeting ― which is taking place via in-person secret ballot voting due to COVID-19 restrictions ― residents will be asked to approve $81,000 for the Thomaston Police Department to hire a new patrol officer.

Currently, the department has one chief, one sergeant, one detective, two full-time patrol officers and two reserve officers. The department has been this size since 1995, Hoppe said

But a lot has changed in Thomason over the last two decades, including an annual increase in calls from about 2,500 to over 5,000, according to Hoppe. Thomaston police officers each handle about 1,400 calls per year, he said.

The population has actually decreased slightly in that time period, to about 2,700 current residents. But, since the mid-2000s, the east end of the town has grown into a commercial hub, including the addition of a Walmart Supercenter, Lowe’s, a hotel and several other businesses.

The increase of people coming into Thomaston for retail purposes inadvertently has created an increase in 911 calls, whether it be for traffic accidents, shoplifting or domestic disputes.

“At any given moment there are more people on the east end of town than actually live in Thomaston,” Hoppe said. “It shows what a hub we’ve become.”

Previously, officers within the department worked solo shifts. However, recently, officers have begun working overlapping shifts to handle calls during busier times of the day.

While adding a new officer will not result in two patrol officers working per shift, it will allow for the department’s detective to conduct investigative work 40 hours per work without also being called out to 911 calls that a patrol officer would normally handle.

By giving the detective uninterrupted time to do police work, Hoppe said the efficiency of the workflow will also improve.

“Even with small police departments you can still do a top of the line job and that’s really what I’m striving for,” Hoppe said. “

The addition of a new officer would also mean that the department is better prepared for when officers go on vacation or need to attend training. Currently, these absences result in other officers having to work overtime.

During the June 8 town meeting, residents will also be asked to approve the police department’s $585,000 annual budget. This figure does not include the separate $81,000 being requested for a new officer, which would cover the salary, insurance and other costs associated with the position. The cost for the additional officer will be approved with that ballot item, if it passes.