The Maine State Police is urging legislators in Augusta to kill two bills that would provide state funding for new patrol positions within the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office.
The two bills — one sponsored by Sen. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, and the other from Rep. Joe Perry, D-Bangor — would have the Legislature fund between five to six new rural patrol positions in the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office.
The legislation comes a little more than a year after the state police began to reduce its footprint in counties across the state. The Maine State Police has been pushing for years to hand more rural patrol responsibilities to county sheriffs. State police started new arrangements with Washington and Hancock counties two years ago that put the sheriffs in charge of patrolling two-thirds of rural areas there instead of half.
Last January, the then-chief of the agency wrote to Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton to say there would be no coverage-sharing arrangement by May 2022, if the sheriff’s office didn’t agree to a state police proposal to cover only two of the county’s six rural patrol zones.
“They had an agreement that ended last year without any plan for what was going to happen to the coverage in the rural areas,” Guerin told the Bangor Daily News on Monday.
Guerin’s legislation, co-sponsored by several area lawmakers, calls on the Legislature to give Penobscot County $1 million over the next two fiscal years to fund five new patrol positions. Meanwhile, Perry’s bill calls for the state to fund six new Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office positions with $1.2 million yearly for two years.
Guerin said the two bills are part of a county-wide effort to ensure Penobscot County residents in the most rural parts of the county still have access to law enforcement following the state police’s reduction.
However, Lt. Col. Brian Scott of the Maine State Police told members of the legislature’s criminal justice committee in written testimony that his agency opposes the bill, saying the funding would effectively compete with money set aside for state police operations.
Last June, the Maine State Police announced that the agency would be restructuring its operations to better support its dwindling ranks.
Scott, in his testimony, said the state police have been forced to pull back from rural patrols across the state, including in Penobscot County, due to a lack of troopers to provide those services among other, more specialized positions including homicide investigations as well as the state’s tactical team.
“Having said all of this, the state police has never gone to the county commissioners and asked for funding from the counties to support our operations because we believe that would be highly inappropriate,” Scott said in written testimony. “County funding is for county operations!”