Limestone brings on Fort Fairfield sergeant as interim police chief, hoping to rebuild department

LIMESTONE, Maine — After seeing officers leave and facing the potential loss of their police department, Limestone has hired an interim chief who is promising to help rebuild police morale and retain staff.

Since the death of former Chief Stacey Mahan in late 2021, Limestone’s police department has dwindled due to burnout and the lure of higher wages in surrounding communities. Though the town recently hired one full-time officer, the mostly reserve staff still put Limestone at risk of closing the department. 

If that happened, residents would rely on Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Maine State Police troopers, who cover a vast territory and cannot guarantee immediate response. Low staff numbers have already caused the town to seek temporary help from local sheriff’s deputies for nearly three weeks.

With current Interim Chief Jim Butler set to leave the department due to health issues, a sergeant from neighboring Fort Fairfield stepped up to offer his assistance.

On Thursday, the town’s select board voted unanimously to hire Jesse Cormier as an interim, part-time police chief. Starting next week, Cormier will work at least 15 to 20 hours per week, in addition to his full-time duties in Fort Fairfield, which equal 42 hours per week on their own.

Cormier has 22 years of experience in full-time police work, including as a supervisor and a firearms and field training instructor. After being promoted to sergeant in Fort Fairfield in April, Chief Matthew Cummings praised Cormier for mentoring new officers and helping to rebuild that department’s full- and part-time crews.

During a more than an hourlong public hearing before the select board’s vote, Cormier said that he knows at least one officer willing to relocate to Limestone’s department full time. If he can bring on more officers, he would like to train one of them to eventually take on the role of full-time chief.

Cormier said that his supervisory background has given him experiences with training officers and implementing state and federal policies, all of which are crucial duties for any chief. He proposed a salary of $45 per hour.

“The benefit [for Limestone] is that you wouldn’t have to pay Maine State Retirement or medical insurance,” said Cormier, referring to benefits he already receives from Fort Fairfield Police.

But Limestone board chairperson Irma Labreck questioned Cormier on whether he could handle the combined hours of his proposed Fort Fairfield and Limestone duties.

Her concerns stemmed from the departure of former interim chief Joey Smith earlier this year, who cited burnout.

“How long can you handle 62 hours if your first commitment is Fort Fairfield?,” Labreck said.

Cormier said that he feels willing and able to put in the extra hours and that Cummings already gave his blessing.

“If I thought that I might get burned out, I wouldn’t be here today,” Cormier said. “If you give me a chance, I could help you rebuild this department.”

As residents voiced opinions on Thursday, it became clear that the majority of those who spoke were in favor of trying to rebuild Limestone’s police rather than rely on the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office or Maine State Police.

Former Selectperson Melissa Devoe said that Cormier’s proposal could help the town bring in a new police chief but at a wage that taxpayers can afford.

In June, the police department became one of many departments under resident scrutiny for increased proposed costs. Residents later approved a compromised total budget of $469,101 to include salaries for a full-time chief and two full-time officers, plus health insurance coverage for their spouses and children.

“If [Chief] Cummings supports the idea, I don’t see why there would be an issue,” Devoe said.

Prior to the meeting, Julie Weston held up a sign that read “Back the Blue. Keep Limestone PD.” She also stated support for Cormier and for the town working creatively to rebuild the department.

“We have a department that is broken but we need to think outside the box and pull our resources together,” Weston said. 

Selectperson Fred Pelletier abstained from the final vote, citing his role as a reserve police officer.

Though Selectperson Jesse Philbrick ultimately voted in favor, he said that the town would be better off waiting for a full-time chief.

“I would like to have [a chief] here 40 hours a week, not somebody in Fort Fairfield,” Philbrick said. “So no one better complain to me that there’s no one at the station, or I’ll run them off my door.”

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