When it comes to selecting their next sheriff, Waldo County residents will choose between a longtime local law enforcement officer with a collaborative approach to the job and a relative Maine newcomer who wants to focus on getting back to the basics of policing.
Jason Trundy, the chief deputy of the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office, and Searsport Police Chief Todd Boisvert are vying to fill the seat presently occupied by outgoing Sheriff Jeff Trafton, who is retiring this year after serving two terms.
Waldo County’s population of about 40,000 people is roughly the same as Woonsocket, Rhode Island, where Boisvert, 57, helped oversee a large police department with 54 patrolmen and a high call volume. In 2019, he was hired by the town of Searsport, a tranquil community of about 2,600 people. The two places are different, but he believes his approach is working in Searsport and would translate well to the sheriff’s office, too.
“I think I can make a difference,” Boisvert, a Republican, said. “You manage from behind the desk and you lead from the front. I think I’m compassionate. I listen. I’m very open-minded … I think I can do a good job as sheriff.”
The chief, who also is head of Searsport’s public safety department, said that it’s important to return to community-based policing.
“It’s those quality of life issues that people are concerned with that we just need,” he said.
Those issues include drug-related crimes and speeding, something he’s gotten many complaints about in Searsport. His department also has been keeping an eye on the homes of residents who spend winters in Florida or other places, a service he would like to scale up if he is elected sheriff.
“I’d like to get the deputies into the communities, so that the people really know their deputies,” he said. “Let’s face it — when someone calls the police, they’re usually having a bad day … But if you know the deputy who’s arriving, your stress level just drops right away.”
He said he would need more information before making a decision about some of the specific programs run by the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s office helps to run the Maine Coastal Reentry Center in Belfast, which assists incarcerated people transition back into the community at the end of their sentences. Boisvert said he thinks it’s a needed program.
“I have some ideas how we can get a better use out of it,” he said, adding that he needed more information before he could share specifics. “Without that information, I may not be right. I need to learn first.”
If elected, Boisvert said he would strive to create a positive work environment for sheriff’s deputies and other personnel. Although many law enforcement agencies in Maine and beyond are struggling to fill vacant positions right now, he believes he has a good strategy to counteract that.
“You’ve got to listen to people. It’s no longer the days of policing where I’m the boss, and you’ve got to do it … people have to feel like they’re part of the decision and part of the process. And you’ve got to treat everybody with respect,” he said.
Trundy, 52, of Lincolnville, a Democrat, began working for the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office as a part-time corrections officer in 1994. The Belfast native was just 24, with no prior law enforcement experience, but then-Sheriff John Ford took a chance on him, he said.
At that time, the sheriff’s office was in a major period of transformation and modernization.
Trundy grew with the department, learning the ropes as he held different jobs that included corrections officer, deputy sheriff, criminal investigator, corrections administrator, patrol lieutenant and finally chief deputy.
“I think starting in the jail was hugely beneficial for me,” he said. “You begin to realize that these people are no different from me. They’ve made some poor decisions that have led them to get themselves incarcerated, but at the end of the day, they’ve got husbands and wives and parents and kids. It put a human side to the profession for me.”
That has remained important to him over the years, and so has a focus on collaborating with other community members to help solve problems that affect everyone.
“We are facing some huge social issues in this country, like substance abuse and mental illness,” he said. “We’ve built this culture in our society that you call 911 if you have an emergency… but enforcement is an imperfect piece of the public safety pie.”
That’s why, in 2018, he and other community leaders started the Waldo County Recovery Committee, which looked at ways to help people with mental illness and substance use disorder. Trundy is proud of some of the initiatives that have grown out of that partnership, including the Community Liaison Program. That’s when a non-law enforcement professional responds alongside a police officer to emergencies or other situations such as mediating property line disputes or child custody battles, mental health crises and family fights.
This and other new programs run by the sheriff’s office aim to help people in a thoughtful way, he said.
“Law enforcement’s no different than any other profession. I may not have all the answers, and I’m willing to try other approaches,” he said. “The whole goal of this is not to be soft on crime. The whole goal of this is to reduce recidivism.”
He’s also cognizant that residents are concerned about speeders, which is where his next focus will likely be, he said.
“I have 28 years invested in this agency and community. I have a very strong sense of ownership,” Trundy said. “I’m a little bit passionate about it … at the end of the day, I truly, honestly feel that I’ve made a difference in people’s lives.”