A Machias police car is pictured on Feb. 3, 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

The Machias Police Department is on hiatus following the recent resignations of its police chief and its one full-time patrol officer, according to a town official.

The town is currently advertising for a new police chief and three full-time patrol officer positions, two of which were vacant when Chief Todd Hand and Officer Tyler Dunbar submitted their resignations, according to Bill Kitchen, a former selectman and the town’s current interim town manager.

In the meantime, the Washington County Sheriff’s Department, whose offices are in Machias, is handling law enforcement patrol duties for the town.

“We do not have any full-time officers or a chief at the moment,” Kitchen said. “We have a great relationship with the sheriff’s office. They are covering for us.”

Small municipal police departments throughout Maine are  struggling to maintain full rosters, with low morale and even turmoil within their ranks contributing to instability. A handful have either closed or are weighing whether they can keep their doors open.

Machias does have reserve police officers, but they are being called in only to be present at scheduled community events and not to conduct routine patrols, Kitchen said.

Hand and Dunbar both resigned within the past month for different reasons.

Hand, who had been hired as chief in late 2019, criticized the town’s elected officials in his July 13 resignation letter, saying that most members of the select board “sought to exercise their own agenda rather than the community’s.” Hand did not cite any board members by name in the letter.

Dunbar, a former police chief in Gouldsboro, resigned not long after, but for family reasons that are expected to be temporary, Kitchen said. Dunbar remains a reserve officer with the town and, if a full-time patrol position is still vacant in December, hopefully will return to full-time status, he said.

In his resignation letter Hand praised former Town Manager Christina Therrien, who left the position in May, for giving him a mandate to modernize the town’s police department, and for supporting his efforts. She showed “strength of character” in dealing with the select board, he wrote.

She stood up “to bullying, remaining on course to do the right thing for Machias, regardless of the petty personal agendas, whose main priorities were to restrict the reorganization of an already demoralized, unprofessional, and extremely disorganized police department, rather than attending to the business of the people for which they were elected.”

Kitchen declined to comment on Hand’s resignation letter, but gave Hand credit for modernizing the police department, which had been in turmoil prior to Hand’s arrival.

The town had dismissed the prior chief, Grady Dwelley, for undisclosed reasons and when Hand took over the department, it was understaffed and lacked standard procedures for fielding and following through on complaints, Hand said at the time. Hand was unable to fill vacant positions, but he had the police station moved to a better, more secure location on Stackpole Road, got a better phone system to make it easier for citizens to contact officers, and upgraded the town’s three police cruisers.

“I feel we are in a different position than we were two years ago,” Kitchen said.

With the improvements during Hand’s tenure, Kitchen said, the department is essentially a “turn-key” operation. The town has received inquiries and applications for both the chief position and for patrol positions, he said, and he is optimistic that he can fill the chief’s job and maybe a patrol position in a matter of weeks rather than months.

As for the town manager position, Kitchen said that the town has received some inquiries but it is still being advertised and the town has yet to offer the job to anyone.

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....