Washburn residents vote to shutter police department for good

1 month ago

Washburn residents voted 140-51 Tuesday to permanently close the Aroostook County town’s police department, according to officials.

The department closed temporarily four months ago due to lack of staff and now is officially dissolved.

Aroostook County has lost several police departments in recent years, mostly because towns can’t find enough officers. Van Buren shuttered its station in 2021, and Limestone followed in 2023, diverting law enforcement to the Maine State Police and Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office. Washburn’s department is the latest in northern Maine to fall victim to staffing difficulties.

“We will no longer have a police department,” Town Manager Donna Turner said. “We will be using the sheriffs and the state police, which is what we’ve been doing for the last four months or so.”

Washburn voters faced two local questions: Question 1 asked, “Do you want to keep the Washburn Police Department open?” Question 2 asked voters who supported the first question if they would approve $198,486 to fund the police department for the remaining seven months of the fiscal year.

Washburn initially shut down its police department on Feb. 29 when part-time interim Police Chief Cyr Martin’s tenure ended. Martin, who is also Ashland’s town manager and police chief, had served Washburn for five years. He stayed an extra month to aid the search for a new chief. 

Town officials thought they had hired one, but the candidate changed his mind, according to Turner. With no chief and only one inexperienced officer remaining, the town closed the station until residents could decide what to do.

The first public hearing on April 10 was packed, Turner said. A second hearing on May 30 drew fewer residents, but the overriding feeling was the same: The town can’t afford to hire the police staff it needs, and people feel well-served by troopers and sheriff’s deputies, who rotate service throughout The County each month.

The town had found it nearly impossible to find people with the right qualifications. Those who applied for the chief position had no law enforcement experience, and one listed no job experience, Turner said last month.