HARTLAND — With two years — a transitional one and a controversial one — behind him, Somerset County Sheriff Spencer R. Havey set out this month to fulfill a campaign promise.
For three hours every Tuesday, he will conduct a public forum in selected towns in Somerset County.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do since the election. But my transition took a little longer than I expected and then we’ve had many challenges along the way,” Havey said.
Havey says it doesn’t matter what purpose individual citizens may have for coming to his Tuesday sessions; he’s interested in making his administration accessible to the people.
“All I can do is what I’ve always done: be upfront and honest with the people.”
The first two sessions were held at Bingham and Jackman. This Tuesday, the location was the Hartland Town Hall. Few people have attended the sessions so far, but he hopes that with a regular schedule established, more people will attend.
“The people out there are the ones who elected me and they should have a say in the service we provide,” he said. “This is in the tradition of the old community beat cop. The only way to bring the people in is make the officers available.”
To ensure that availability, Havey has opened community police centers, regional offices, at Bingham and Jackman where deputies and other department officials can meet local citizens. The second aspect of his plan to improve communication with the public is Havey’s Tuesday meeting schedule at Bingham Jackman, Hartland and Norridgewock. In addition to those meetings, he plans to make the rounds of smaller communities in the area, meeting with storekeepers and individuals at public locations.
Three weeks into the program, one controversy continues to follow him — the death of Katherine Hegarty. Hartland resident David Willey’s primary concern was the speed of traffic on Hartland residential streets, but he also had questions about the Hegarty incident.
“I’m sure that will be one of the toughest issues facing me,” Havey said. “I defend my men. They did what they were trained to do. Unfortunately, officers have not been trained to back off. They aren’t trained to storm buildings and kill people either, but they acted according to their training. They made a decision to apprehend her for a criminal violation and things went bad. It turned into a tragedy and everyone has suffered for it.”
The Hegarty case “opened a lot of eyes in the law enforcement community,” Havey said. A barricaded-felon policy is still under review, he said, but curent policy remains in effect. The increase in violent crime in recent years, coupled with the economic times, Havey predicts “tough times” in law enforcement in the ’90s.
“It’s important to have all agencies work together — the wardens, the State Police and the deputies. We’re all shorthanded and we need to cooperate. We’re all doing more with less.”
Willey told Havey that he appreciated the increased visibility and patrols of the sheriff’s deputies.
“I know you had a difficult year last year. But I’m glad to see you fulfilling a campaign promise,” he said.