A year after the town council voted to disband its police department amid scandal, Millinocket residents and officials said the events of that period are largely behind them as a neighboring municipality has taken on policing services for the town.
Millinocket disbanded its police department last December, after firing chief Craig Worster, whom deputy chief Janet Theriault had accused of creating a hostile workplace. The town also fired its manager, John Davis, that September. Davis had dismissed Theriault’s complaint that month, claiming that it lacked merit. Another interim town manager was subsequently fired.
Worster’s firing was overturned in February after a successful appeal, but he had no job to return to after Millinocket Town Council terminated the police department. Millinocket settled with Theriault the same month.
Worster declined to comment for this story through his lawyer.
But now those developments are behind the town. Millinocket now contracts with East Millinocket for policing services, and residents and officials say the arrangement is working well. The force has nine full-time officers who split their time patrolling Millinocket along with Medway and East Millinocket.
Millinocket has accounted for the bulk of calls police responded to in the three towns over the past year. Officers responded to 4,186 calls in Millinocket between Dec. 22, 2020, and Dec. 14, 2021, said East Millinocket police Chief Cameron McDunnah. Some 2,736 calls came from East Millinocket and 2,434 from Medway.
“I think the officers have done a fantastic job of providing police services,” McDunnah said. “It’s very nice, especially as somebody that’s been born and raised here in town, to see all three of these towns work together as one.”
The initial contract, which began Dec. 23, 2020, has been extended to June 30, 2024, said East Millinocket selectman Mike Michaud.
All three towns benefit from being patrolled by one department that can provide immediate assistance, Michaud said. The department is hiring two more police officers to patrol Millinocket, the largest of the three towns, he said.
“With a couple more officers, we’d be able to be more proactive,” Michaud said.
Contracting with a combined police force has also helped alleviate financial concerns for Millinocket, said interim town manager Richard Angotti.
“As our communities shrink, especially in these mill towns where we’ve lost our primary employer, it’s been harder and harder on the taxpayers,” Angotti said.
Maine communities have struggled in recent years to recruit and retain first responders. The phenomenon has been acutely felt in small towns.
Millinocket has lost 45 percent of its population since the 1970s, according to a report from local nonprofit Our Katahdin, which owns the site where the local paper mill operated until 2008.
“It’s important that our communities get together and develop relationships,” Angotti said. “I have nothing but praise for the East Millinocket Police Department.”
Susan D’Alessandro, a Millinocket resident who organized a petition and rallies supporting Theriault, said she was pleased with the new arrangement.
Contracting with East Millinocket rooted out a police culture in Millinocket that allowed bad actors to escape consequences for their actions, she said.
“It just really spiraled into a total nightmare,” she said, referring to the events that led to the Millinocket Police Department’s disbanding. “I’m really sad at the way that it ended up because it cost somebody their career.”
Depending on East Millinocket was more logical than salvaging a department that had only two officers, only one of whom worked regularly, by the time it disbanded.
“I was thankful that East Millinocket was willing to contract with us,” D’Alessandro said. “Trying to reestablish an entire department is next to impossible, so I’m really thankful that they were willing to do it.”
Steve Golieb, the Millinocket Town Council chairperson, also said he was happy with the arrangement.
“I’m confident that the services that we’re receiving certainly warrant a long-term relationship,” Golieb said. “Adding a couple officers speaks to our belief in their services and our willingness to engage in more of a relationship.”