In this screenshot of body camera footage obtained by the Bangor Daily News Rumford police officer Brad Gallant points a gun and a Taser at Brandon Dearborn in Mexico, Aug. 31, 2022. Credit: Courtesy of the Office of the Maine Attorney General

For the third year in a row, a state panel that reviews Maine police officers’ use of deadly force has called for more mental health and substance use disorder services to be deployed at the local level to help mitigate potentially deadly encounters with police. 

Maine’s Deadly Force Review Panel was created in 2019 to assess the uses of deadly force by police in the state and recommend ways officers can avoid violence in the future. Since its inception, the panel’s first, second and now third annual reports have all called for increased planning by law enforcement agencies around mental health issues and more crisis intervention services at the local level. 

The panel’s latest annual report, which was released Tuesday afternoon, specifically echoed calls for additional behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment resources, especially in rural areas, and better collaboration and communication between service providers and law enforcement. 

In particular, the panel urged expanding education and information around the use of protective custody and greater collaboration with mental health providers through the use of telehealth assessment options to restrict dangerous or unstable people’s access to weapons, according to the report. 

The panel has reviewed a total of 20 cases in the last three years in which deadly force was used. In all of those cases, 100 percent of the people subjected to deadly force were white, according to the panel. 

Of the 20 incidents reviewed, 74 percent of the people subjected to deadly force were “in a mental health crisis and/or suicidal,” according to the panel’s latest annual report.  

The panel also recommended that the Maine Department of Public Safety and a group of other law enforcement personnel develop a common records management system to ensure that there is greater access to information across the state. 

“The Panel recognizes that this would be an onerous and expensive goal to achieve, but the gaps in critical information being readily available to law enforcement compromise public safety by limiting law enforcement’s ability to develop responses to individuals with histories of violent behavior that have the best chance for a non-lethal resolution,” the panel said in its report. 

Other key recommendations include an emphasis on more training for all law enforcement agencies on the use of less-lethal methods of force, and increased use of body-worn cameras and cruiser cameras during an incident that has the potential for deadly force. 

The panel also noted that law enforcement agencies across the state are concerned and frustrated over the length of time it takes the Office of the Attorney General to review incidents of deadly force. 

According to the panel’s review, if the incident took place before 2019, the AG’s office took an average of 28 months to complete its review. If the incident took place in 2019, it took an average of 27 months for the AG’s office to complete its review. If the incident was in 2020, it took the office an average of 11 months to complete its review, according to the panel. 

In October 2021, a new statute went into effect that charges the attorney general’s office with completing its reviews of deadly force incidents within 180 days and so far the deadly force review panel has not been made aware of any pending investigations that will not meet this new deadline. 

Since the panel’s inception in 2019, there have been 36 instances of deadly force across Maine. The panel’s review of incidents is confined to those already investigated and closed by the Maine attorney general’s office. 

Avatar photo

Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...