January 21, 2020

Deputy explains policy governing use of police vehicles

ROCKLAND — Chief Deputy F. Thomas Russell advised the County Commissioners Tuesday of a new policy regarding the operation of police vehicles that has been adopted by the Knox County Sheriff’s Department.

Commissioners had asked for a review on the operation of vehicles after receiving complaints of speeding cruisers.

Commissioner A. Mason Johnson related a personal observation at Kaler’s Corner, where he said he saw a cruiser skid around the corner, narrowly missing another vehicle. Johnson said he learned later that the officer was responding to a report of a drowning at Port Clyde 12 miles away.

Johnson said he could appreciate the feelings of the officer in wanting to get to the scene, but the fact was that by the time he arrived the person already would have been pulled out by someone else or would have drowned. Taking a chance on injuring someone else by such driving was not called for, Johnson said.

Russell agreed. He said that young officers sometimes got caught up in the emotion of the incident and had to be reminded of safe operation procedures. He said that any officer who violated county policy would be subject to disciplinary action.

Russell said a new policy regarding vehicle operation, including high-speed chases, that was modeled after a policy adopted by the Maine Police of Chief’s Association, had been put in place for Knox County. Included in the general rules of procedure was a requirement that officers would not drive more than 20 miles an hour above the speed limit, except in the cases of pursuit.

“Recognizing that protection of human life is paramount, the responding officer must remember that his objective is to get to the location of the occurrence as soon as possible, safely, without danger to himself or to others,” the policy stated.

Russell said that he appreciated being advised of complaints, and if there were further complaints he wanted to hear about them.

Commissioners also accepted the resignation of one deputy, and approved the promotion of a correction’s officer to fill the vacancy. Deputy Darren Hooper’s resignation was accepted, and Corrections Sgt. James Moore was reassigned to the patrol division. Jail Administrator Raymond Voyer said he had a list of candidates from which to fill the vacancy in corrections.

Commissioners approved an increase for boarding prisoners from other jurisdictions. The county was charging $55 a day to board women, and $45 for men. The new rate, to be effective Aug. 1, will be $55 across the board. Some other counties have increased rates to as high as $65 a day.

Commissioners signed a contract with People’s Heritage Bank to provide loans of $4.9 million for the new county jail at 4.7 percent interest. Commissioner Arthur Sprowl also requested that jail consultant Rod Miller be contacted in an attempt to gain $1.6 million reimbursement from the Department of Corrections.

The county had expected the money to defray the cost of adding 16 $100,000 beds to the new facility to accommodate state prisoners. DOC had advised the county that as the new jail was not expected to be ready until 1994, payment would not be made until that time.

Sprowl said that the county had been given assurances the money would be available at the start of construction to assist the county. Voyer commented that DOC was “passing its fiscal problems along to us. I don’t know what we can do about it.”

During discussion of the county airport, commissioners tabled approval of a $502,000 paving contract with Marriner’s Inc. after Johnson complained that many other local contractors had been unaware of the job. He also complained that the commissioner’s office had been ignored in the process and been unaware the project had gone out to bid.

Although the contract was advertised in area newspapers, Johnson said that local contractors should have been directly contacted and made aware of the project. The Marriner’s bid was the only one received.

Sprowl pointed out that county had legally advertised the work, and that if a procedure of directly contacting contractors was started, it would open up the county for criticism should someone be missed. He also pointed out that when the county approved its $25,000 match for the government-funded project, it gave Airport Manager James Danforth permission to go ahead and award a contract to the low bidder.

The matter was tabled because of the absence of both Danforth, who was out on personal leave, and Commissioner Gene Kenniston, who was unable to attend.

Commissioners gave Penobscot Air Service permission to sell fuel at the airport on a temporary basis. Sprowl said that the county had been advised by the Federal Aviation Administration that to comply with its grant applications, fuel must be made available at all times at the airport. PAS had advised the county that a verbal agreement had been worked out with Downeast Airlines, the prime fuel dealer at the facility, to be allowed to sell fuel.

Sprowl said he was concerned that PAS did not meet minimum standards set by the county for selling fuel. He asked the permission be temporary until minimum standards were met, or changed by the county.

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