Selectmen in Mount Desert and town councilors in Bar Harbor are to be congratulated for the deliberative approach they have taken in discussions concerning greater law enforcement cooperation. Slow and steady wins the race here. There are many facets to consider even with the experience of other towns in Maine serving as a guide.
In addition to holding their own meetings, both boards recently conducted a joint session with representatives of the Maine Chiefs of Police. At that meeting, it was explained that in order to fully realize the benefits of sharing a police chief, a full merger of the departments should be explored. That is the best way to maximize efficiency and minimize costs to taxpayers in both communities. Studies of the law enforcement needs of both communities are the logical next steps. But officials in other Mount Desert Island towns may want to join the discussion.
The announcement this week that Southwest Harbor Police Chief Dave Chapais will retire soon opens up additional possibilities. Rather than have consultants prepare a plan just for Bar Harbor and Mount Desert, why not include Southwest Harbor? And, with Tremont currently contracting with the Maine State Police and Hancock County Sheriff’s Department for additional patrols, officials in that community already have the flexibility needed to become part of the package as well. It’s the perfect time to look at the big picture.
Joining forces to provide key public services successfully created Mount Desert Island High School. And, more recently, the MDI Regional School System has melded all the area’s teachers, school staffs and curriculum goals into a single, cohesive unit.
A major obstacle to past consideration of a joint police department was reluctance on the part of any community to summarily sideline the individuals comprising their existing command structures. With those leadership posts now in flux, there is a golden opportunity to act, free of self-interest politics.
In the end, elected officials or voters in the individual towns may decide that now is not the time to create a single department. Mount Desert Selectmen have already scheduled a hearing to plumb public sentiment there. At the very least, this rare opportunity to explore the creation of a single, island-wide police department should not be passed up.