SKOWHEGAN — A new state law allows small towns without their own police forces to hire their own state troopers, and some western Maine towns are interested.
But one sheriff says they might experience sticker shock when they add up the cost of training, equipping and paying the salary and benefits of a trooper.
“The concept is excellent, but like anything else today, it is expensive,” said Somerset County Sheriff Barry A. DeLong.
A program authorized by the Legislature earlier this year is designed to bolster police presence in rural areas, where trained officers are spread thin. The program gives towns a chance to get more coverage with relatively low cost and liability.
Communities would decide where the trooper patrols, unless there’s an emergency outside town boundaries. Up to three towns could share the services of one trooper.
“This is not something that is imminent,” spokesman Stephen McCausland of the state Department of Public Safety said Tuesday. Because of the lag time in training new troopers, towns are not likely to have state troopers patrolling in 2000, he said.
A half-dozen towns in central and western Maine served by Troop C have expressed interest. If more troopers were hired, they would bolster the ranks of the 24 troopers at the barracks who now patrol 6,300 square miles.
Towns in the area served by State Police Troop A in York County and in the Washington-Hancock counties area served by Troop J have also expressed interest, McCausland said. Interest has been expressed in Aroostook County as well.
Some Maine counties also provide patrol services for towns, McCausland said.
The Somerset County Sheriff’s Department provides additional patrols to one town at a rate of $9 an hour, said DeLong, but the cost of contracting for a trooper would be higher than that.
A similar program in effect in Connecticut for decades has been very successful, according to Connecticut State Police Maj. Richard Wheeler.
More than half of Connecticut’s municipalities that do not have a police department contract with the state for a resident trooper, and some have as many as five troopers, Wheeler said.
In others, the resident trooper supervises constables, creating what amounts to a small police department, Wheeler said.