MOUNT DESERT — Former Bar Harbor Police Chief Nate Young is challenging the Mount Desert Police Department’s practice of hiring out its off-duty officers to provide private security services.
“As far as I’m concerned, public safety does not belong in the security business,” he said. “It’s tantamount to the public works department providing construction services and rebuilding somebody’s driveway and cutting out the local contractors.”
The police department charges $75 an hour, with a three-hour minimum, for an off-duty officer to provide property or personal security services or to conduct traffic control for private functions, such as weddings and parties. The officer gets $50 an hour.
Young said he doesn’t object to off-duty officers directing traffic for private events.
“But I don’t think it’s appropriate for public safety to be tied up doing private security for 12 hours a day, seven days a week for many weeks, particularly in July and August,” he said. “If an estate wants long-term security for their property, they should hire their own private security. It’s night watchman duty. It’s not a law enforcement, threat-related issue.”
Last August, Young set up a corporation called Acadia Security Solutions. In October, he received a security company license from the Maine Department of Public Safety.
Young said he was encouraged to do so by a prospective client. But then the client, who in previous years had contracted with the Mount Desert Police Department for security services, decided to do so again this year.
Asked if he still is interested in providing private security, Young said, “Not necessarily. I hung my shingle for a particular reason, and that was to pick up a client, which I was encouraged to do, only to have Mount Desert swoop in and take them again this year.”
Mount Desert and Bar Harbor Police Chief Jim Willis said his department never solicits private security business.
“It’s strictly responsive, always,” he said. “People call and ask for a service, and if we’re able to provide it, we do. But we don’t ever want that to get in the way of our primary mission.”
Willis said he rarely works what he calls “outside details” himself. “I like to avoid the inference that I’m somehow making money off of it,” he said.
Town Manager Durlin Lunt said most of the requests for hiring off-duty officers come from people who are having cocktail parties or other private functions. He said that if there is a big party at a home on Cooksey Drive in Seal Harbor, for example, “You really need a police officer to prevent total chaos and keep the road open.”
As for both security services and traffic control, Lunt said, “The board [of selectmen’s] policy has been that … if we have the personnel to do it, then we’re happy to do it. It stresses the department to a certain extent … but the people like it, and that’s what we’re here for, to try to help our citizens.”
Willis said people occasionally want a security detail for personal protection, but it most often involves patrolling and guarding property.
“There are times when people don’t want people coming onto their property, and they just want to be affirmative about it,” he said.
Lunt said he plans to place the issue of the police department providing private security on the agenda for discussion at a board of selectmen’s meeting, probably either July 6 or July 20.
Invoking the state’s Freedom of Access Act, Young last month filed a request with the town for all documents related to the hiring of officers for private security and traffic details over the past two years.
In response, on June 11, Lunt emailed him 189 pages of records. They included an agreement signed by attorney Michael Ross on behalf of an unidentified family and Chief Willis that details the scope of security services to be provided at the family’s estate this summer. It is similar to last summer’s service agreement.
According to this year’s agreement, “The Family guarantees to schedule and pay for six full weeks of 12 hours per day security coverage. The coverage will be continuous from approximately July 1 through August 31. In addition, coverage shall be provided from approximately June 7 to June 14. The precise dates will be coordinated with the property manager.”
Young said he isn’t challenging the town’s policy of providing private security services in hopes of getting that family’s business in the future.
“I’m obviously not going to pick up this client, because I have challenged the process that was used,” he said. “I have no belief that this will put me in a situation where [they will hire me].”
He said he simply objects to the principle of a municipal department offering that service.
So far this fiscal year, which ends June 30, the town has collected $72,900 for providing outside police details. That total includes $59,300 for security services and $13,600 for traffic control, according to town Treasurer Kathi Mahar.
The town has paid out $58,500 in police officer salaries and benefits, including $47,550 for security and $10,950 for traffic.
The $14,400 difference between total income and expenses is net revenue for the town.
Mahar said the town currently has no formal policy as to how such funds are used. She said Willis has been planning to make a recommendation on that to the board of selectmen. Two options, she said, are to put the revenue from outside details in the police department’s training reserve account or its equipment reserve account.