Clear guidance

Is the time right for consideration of a single, island-wide police department?

More and more people are asking that question as discussions involving the chief-sharing arrangement between Mount Desert and Bar Harbor progress.

Southwest Harbor, where the police chief recently retired, already has expressed interest. And Tremont, which is served by the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, Maine State Police, and contracts for additional coverage, already, is delegating those responsibilities to outside entities.

While exploring the nuts and bolts of a unified department makes sense, it probably is equally prudent to plumb the depths of public opinion regarding whether or not there is the collective political will to go forward.

The types of meetings at which the public is encouraged to speak, like those held so far, tend to attract opponents of an issue from the start, and they often fight tooth and nail from the start.

The task, then, becomes how to sample as broad a segment of the citizenry as possible? Unfortunately, Tuesday’s major election would have been the most opportune time to conduct a non-binding straw poll. But there will be other good opportunities, particularly in the spring at annual town meetings. The question could be as simple as asking residents if they favor exploring consolidation options. Any final, formal, up or down vote would have to go back to town meeting after a plan has been created.

When it comes to law enforcement, selectmen and town councilors in MDI towns should be trusted to follow their instinct when considering more cooperation and consolidation. While some efforts may have been dismissed out of hand in the past, traditional isolationist walls are crumbling. This is a relatively small island. We are all in this together. From a tax-dollar and police-coverage perspective, it just doesn’t make sense to have so many individual departments.

And also making no sense is spending an inordinate amount of time looking at “what if?” should residents, from the start, send a clear message of “No way!”

Straw polls in the spring would be a big help in moving the debate forward, one way or the other.

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