State police coverage of northern Penobscot towns raises safety concerns

10 months ago

PATTEN, Maine — Safety is increasingly a concern in the Patten area since Bangor area law enforcement has had to fill in coverage gaps made by Maine State Police’s staffing shortages, according to town leaders.

Patten public safety director Brett Morse and Town Manager Gail Albert have been concerned about a reduced police presence in the town and slow response times for emergency calls by Maine State Police.

Morse, who manages 22 fire and ambulance crew members, said during a meeting Thursday night that he worries about everyone’s safety. Since June there have been several times that ambulance crew members waited upward of two hours for police and one time no one came, he said.

Town leaders called the special public hearing Thursday to discuss how to solve the problem.

“In our environment, fire and EMS can only go in when the scene is safe. We cannot go into a home without police,” Morse said. Even if someone is seriously injured, they cannot help the person until police arrive, and dead bodies are considered crime scenes until police arrive to investigate, he said. 

Initially, Morse and Albert thought that the state police had changed coverage from Troop F out of Houlton to Troop E in Bangor, although they had not been informed about any changes. But Houlton still is covering the area, said Lt. Brian Harris, Maine State Police Troop F commander. Harris said he asked Bangor state police to assist in the coverage rotation earlier this summer because of staff shortages.

“Before we had 28 troopers, now we have two,” Harris said during the meeting. 

The towns affected are in Penobscot County but have been covered by the Aroostook County state police barracks.

When Houlton covered the area, response times were from 30 minutes to an hour, but now those times are doubled, Morse said.

Morse asked residents during the public hearing to sign a petition to get Houlton reassigned back to the Patten area, which includes Stacyville and Mt. Chase.

Forty-seven residents signed the petition. There were about 55 people at the meeting. 

Houlton and Bangor rotate covering the Patten area for two weeks every other month. The Penobscot Sheriff’s deputies cover the other two weeks each month, Harris said.  

Harris explained to residents who expressed concerns about increased drug activity in the town that it is important for everyone to be a good witness and get as much identifying information as possible if they see something and to keep a watch on neighboring properties.

As far as response times, Harris said that he cannot guarantee they can come any sooner if troopers are already on another call. When an emergency call comes in, he does everything he can to get law enforcement on a dangerous scene, including calling on border patrol or game wardens if they can get there more quickly, he said. 

“There is no quick fix, but we are working on it,” Harris said. “It is a statewide crisis for staff.”

The Maine State Police are down 50 positions around the state, he said, explaining that the state police has beefed up recruitment efforts.  

Patten Selectboard Chairman Cody Brackett said that everyone needs to stop blaming police because they are doing everything they can every day to keep the town safe.