Winter Harbor and Gouldsboro police departments consider combining

GOULDSBORO — The Gouldsboro Police Department and the Winter Harbor Police Department have been working on a proposal to combine the two departments, according to the chiefs of both departments.

They have drafted a plan that would allow the two police forces to share resources, offices and budgets. That report will be presented to selectmen from both towns. Winter Harbor Police Chief Danny Mitchell said he hopes the towns will eventually vote on the measure.

The plan would mean that Mitchell would become the police chief for both towns and Gouldsboro Police Chief Tyler Dunbar would become a lieutenant.

A central tenet of the plan is having three or four full-time officers, including Mitchell and Dunbar, allowing increased police coverage of the area.

Mitchell said both departments currently operate by covering their towns for about 60 to 65 hours each week. The new plan would allow for between 140 and 160 hours of coverage.

Under the current model, backup for police officers is often not available, and they have to call in support from state police or the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office. Usually it takes those officers about 30 minutes to respond, Mitchell said.

For Dunbar, the plan is a logical one.

“I’m very interested in being as professional and modern as we can be and the only way we can do that is have full-time officers,” he said.

The new force would be based at the current Winter Harbor Police Department, because it is centrally located for both communities. A satellite office would be kept at the Gouldsboro Town Hall, with staff keeping regular hours for community members there.

The discussion about consolidating began about a year ago, according to Mitchell. He said working together will allow police to better cover the Schoodic area and deal with persistent problems, such as drugs.

“Today’s profession of policing is seeing a lot of changes due to world events, events in our country, opiates,” Mitchell said. “We believe that with combined resources from both towns we can leverage those resources to provide a level of service and policing that neither town could afford on their own.”

Mitchell served the early days of his career in Gouldsboro as the police chief, and has a deep connection to both departments. In the mid-1990s, Winter Harbor contracted with Gouldsboro for police services before ultimately splitting off to form its own department.

Mitchell described that time as “politically charged,” and said the circumstances have changed so that the two departments would best be served by working together. One of the main rationales for merging is to better handle drug-related crime.

Dunbar said one issue that’s come up in Gouldsboro is thefts, which he said can be linked to drug addiction.

“It’s difficult to effectively combat that when you have only one full-time officer,” Dunbar said.

Mitchell said there are community programs and resources already for those struggling with addiction, and his department intends to focus on enforcement. He said whenever possible his officers try to steer people toward resources such as addiction programs.

“The drug scene isn’t likely going away anytime soon and we think we can have a positive impact on both communities,” Mitchell said. “The days of when we grew up in town seem to be dwindling … now we really are dealing with some of the opiates and the heroin, the crack. It’s changing the communities.”

Both chiefs attended a Gouldsboro Board of Selectmen’s meeting Thursday.

Chairman Dana Rice had invited Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane to present to the board on the logistics of contracting with the Sheriff’s Office for police coverage.

Mitchell and Dunbar attended the meeting to express that the invitation undermined their departments’ work and the proposal to combine. Dunbar told the selectmen that he was in the middle of looking through applicants for a police officer, and he wouldn’t want those candidates to think the Gouldsboro Police Department is about to shut down.

“You can blame that all on me, Tyler,” Rice said. “I know that I’m going to be asked questions from the general public … the intent was not to do you any grief. If it did, I’m sorry for it, but that’s tough.”

Ultimately, board members voted on a motion to state their confidence in the current Gouldsboro Police Department.

Mitchell and Dunbar will present their proposal to the town boards of selectmen. They are waiting until Winter Harbor’s board is at full strength, as that town currently has a vacancy, which will be filled by voters during the Nov. 7 election.

Jack Dodson
Jack Dodson began working for The Ellsworth American in mid-2017, and covers eastern Hancock and western Washington counties. He grew up in the Mid-coast region before living in New York City for five years, where he freelanced in documentary filmmaking and journalism. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, environment and immigration reporting.

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