Police Chief Jim Willis will continue to serve Mount Desert and Bar Harbor as the two towns move toward greater integration of their police forces. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Bar Harbor, Mount Desert move toward integrated police

BAR HARBOR — The towns of Bar Harbor and Mount Desert will continue integrating their law enforcement services, following approval of a new two-year agreement to share the services of Chief Jim Willis and work towards a unified police department.

Selectmen in Mount Desert approved the agreement Monday, and Bar Harbor’s Town Council signed off on Tuesday. The votes in both groups were unanimous, and officials and police representatives said they think the system is working well.

“We started out by trying to learn from models in other towns,” council Chair Paul Paradis said, “and now you’ve surpassed them. We’re very proud.”

The current agreement stipulates it is void if the current chief leaves or retires, but Councilor Gary Friedmann told Willis that thanks to his hard work, the towns are “getting close to the point where this effort isn’t dependent on your leadership.”

This is the fifth such agreement between the towns, Town Manager Cornell Knight told the council. It is the first to include explicit language about an “eventual goal of a unified police department.”

Decisions about what that would look like, Willis said, could come at the end of this two-year contract. “We should be ready to come back and present some choices to you all then,” he said.

More than the operational nitty-gritty included in these agreements, Willis said, what’s important to the residents of both towns is a sense of identity and ownership in their local law enforcement.

“What they see is the color of the cruiser going by and the patch on the sleeve,” he said. “And that really matters. There’s a way to co-brand this thing so people say, ‘This is my police department, and I get a say, and I can call the chief if I want.’”

“We do real, hard work to make it look smooth,” Lt. Dave Kerns of Bar Harbor said. “Where it gets convoluted is where we try to keep everything separate.”

Lt. Kevin Edgecomb of Mount Desert said officers enjoy the diversity of the two communities, where the volume and type of calls vary greatly. Having a larger group also gives officers more opportunity to specialize, attend trainings and manage time off.

“We’re way ahead of where we thought we’d be.”

Willis said the two departments keep separate records in the same Spillman records management system, hosted in a server at the Hancock County Sherriff’s Office. “They’re partitioned within that system; we decide who can look at them and who can’t.” For officers in one of the patrol zones, he said, that can mean cumbersome repeated logging in and out as they respond to calls on both sides of the town line.

Even with increased efficiency, the town’s public safety building is still likely to need attention soon, Willis said.

“Council is aware of the gross inadequacies of the current station,” said Friedmann, who recently participated in an overnight ride-along with an officer.

“Having the recently renovated Mount Desert facility bought some time, but we’re at capacity there, too,” Willis said.


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