BAR HARBOR — A robust mutual aid agreement between the police force here and in the town of Mount Desert was approved by town councilors Tuesday. It will allow officers from either department to travel and work freely in both towns whenever they deem necessary.
The agreement provides for mutual aid that is “constant, recurring and may take place without prompting,” and is intended to provide adequate coverage and enhance investigations, according to the text of the document.
“It is recognized that this agreement is intended to provide law enforcement officers from both police departments with full law enforcement authority in both communities,” the agreement reads.
Town councilors approved the agreement by a unanimous 7-0 vote. Selectmen in Mount Desert were slated to take up the plan on Wednesday night. No selectmen there have indicated any opposition to the mutual aid agreement.
Town councilor David Bowden praised the agreement and said that it brings the towns closer to their goal of a shared police force.
“It’s a baby step, but it’s a step to that talk of combining police forces,” he said. “It may not happen for 20 years, but it’s one step at a time, and I think it’s a valuable step.”
In order to make way for the new agreement, councilors dissolved the current, less intensive mutual aid agreement with Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor. However, Police Chief Jim Willis said that he plans to continue providing aid to Southwest Harbor as necessary. In order to do this, he is working to have all police officers in Bar Harbor and Mount Desert become deputy sheriff’s with the Hancock County Sheriff’s department. This will allow them to work outside of their home jurisdictions, he said.
One difference between the two towns is that Mount Desert officers carry Tasers, while Bar Harbor’s do not. Councilors, however, seemed willing to entertain budget suggestions on arming Bar Harbor officers with the non-lethal devices.
“In the end, I’ve become convinced that they save injuries. They save lives,” Willis said.
The agreement will allow leaders from both departments to use officers from each department to fill schedule gaps, or as often happens in Mount Desert, to provide traffic control and supervision at private parties. These uses of mutual aid would be invoiced to each town. To have officers acting in other towns within the line of duty, however, would be considered part of the normal day-to-day functioning of the departments, and their services would not be billed out, he said.
Consolidating police forces is one of the goals of the League of Towns, which includes all Acadia-area municipalities. Exploring collaboration is also a goal of the Bar Harbor Town Council.