SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The town wants to hire a police chief but first must make decisions regarding the type of person they want for the job, and more importantly, in what direction that person should take the police department.
Southwest Harbor has been without a police chief since Dave Chapais retired in October. Lieutenant Mike Miller has been serving as acting chief of the department.
The big question, Town Manager Don Lagrange told selectmen Tuesday, is whether the town wishes to look at consolidating with Bar Harbor and Mount Desert to form a three-town police force or to continue operating independently. Those two towns recently entered a shared policing arrangement.
At this time, Bar Harbor and Mount Desert are not interested in having Southwest Harbor join into the agreement. Lagrange said he is confident that will change in the future. If that is to happen, the town needs to hire a chief that steers the department in that direction, he added.
Selectmen Tom Benson and George Jellison indicated they were interested in the possibility of an arrangement with Bar Harbor and Mount Desert.
“My personal feeling is we’d like to see something like that,” Jellison said.
Lagrange and Jellison recently met with Chief Jim Willis of the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert police departments and Chief Chris Coleman of the Ellsworth Police Department to discuss how the town should proceed. Both chiefs were helpful in giving suggestions about how to search for a new chief. They agreed that the town first must choose a direction, Lagrange said.
Lagrange opined that the department needs to change its focus. Instead of sitting alongside the road watching for speeders, police should be more visible in the community, he said.
“We don’t need traffic cops; we need someone to develop security, to develop a relationship with the community,” he said. “We should make ourselves more accessible to residents.”
Benson and selectman David Minctons volunteered to work with Lagrange in forging a mission for the next police chief. They are to report back at the next selectmen’s meeting.