ELLSWORTH – The Hancock County Commissioners Tuesday in a split vote authorized Sheriff Scott Kane to proceed with an accreditation program for his department.
Kane initially pitched the program to the board in March.
“All of our policies are evaluated,” Kane said at the March 16 meeting. “If there are any policies we don’t have, we add those and meet the standards.”
Commissioners John Wombacher and Paul Paradis voted in favor. Chairman Bill Clark voted against.
The program is overseen by Dirigo Safety, which is an Auburn business that offers law enforcement training as well as workplace safety training. Dirigo Executive Vice President Shawn O’Leary, himself a former police officer, attended the meeting, which was held via online conference platform Zoom due to the pandemic.
The program was developed in conjunction with the Maine Police Chiefs Association. The accreditation program is described as “a voluntary process where police agencies in Maine prove their compliance with Maine law enforcement’s best practices.”
Clark, a retired sheriff, has several issues with the accreditation program.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who wouldn’t say it’s really beneficial,” Clark said. “So far with ten agencies accredited out of 146 in the state, there’s 136 out there who are not doing this. Are we smarter than they are? Are we more progressive than they are? Are we richer than they are?”
The chairman questioned the timing.
“This is a discretionary program,” Clark said. “It’s very valuable, nevertheless, it is discretionary. Those programs should be presented at budget time” not mid-year.
Clark also questioned the cost.
“The cost is a big one,” he said. “The first three years is over $23,000.” That does not include the cost of bringing retired Major Richard Bishop back for a while to handle paperwork associated with the accreditation process. Sheriff Scott Kane said neither he nor his second-in-command Chief Deputy Patrick Kane have time to do that work.
Commissioner Paradis said the cost is cheaper than a civil suit.
O’Leary added, “accreditation is a risk management tool. It reduces liability in law enforcement. When law enforcement is sued, it’s usually for lack of training.”
“It’s a second set of eyes on everything we do, which I think is important,” said Paradis, who was familiar with the accreditation program from his time as a former Bar Harbor town councilor. “I think that’s important. The testing is documented. Not only did the deputy or officer review the policy but it was tested. I think that’s very important. Yes, it’s additional expense.”
“It was originally taken on by the Maine Chiefs and it was too big of a bite for them to handle,” Paradis said. “I really think this is going to be a savings moving forward. We need to get to this level of professionalism.”
Wombacher said he agreed with Paradis’ comments.
“I do want to thank the sheriff for being proactive,” Wombacher said. “It does seem to be a good fit. I like the idea that it’s going to be organized and maintained.”
Clark questioned the length of time Dirigo Safety has been operating the accreditation program.
“I’d like to see a more proven track record before we get involved,” said Clark. “I’m just having problems supporting this.”
Paradis said there has been talk in the legislature about mandating an accreditation program for Maine’s police departments.
“With the temperament around the country – it’s a benefit, no question about it,” Kane said.