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10/2/2013 2:00:00 PM
Lincoln County Law Enforcement: Wiscasset Police Department
Wiscasset Police Chief Troy Cline (D. Lobkowicz photo)
Wiscasset Police Chief Troy Cline (D. Lobkowicz photo)
By Dominik Lobkowicz

(This is the third of a five article series looking at the five law enforcement agencies within Lincoln County.)

Wiscasset, a beautiful town with a small riverside village, sports a reputation as the bottle-neck of Midcoast Maine, but Police Chief Troy Cline feels interfacing with the public through a visible and active police force can help combat crime and tame the traffic beast.

Wiscasset Police Department has three full-time employees - Cline, Sgt. Kathy Williams, and Patrol Officer Perry Hatch - supplemented by 10 part-time officers.

"Right now I've got a super staff," said Cline. "My staff is very approachable. I know that they're very knowledgeable, they're very proficient, and they know how to do their job. That's not to say that hasn't always been the case in Wiscasset."

Generally, only one officer is on duty during a shift, but Cline said staff is increased on certain days, such as during the recent Wings Over Wiscasset air show.

The 10 part-time officers are used to supplement the staffing levels and to cover any shifts not covered by the three full-timers.

Those part-timers are critical to meeting the goals of the citizens of Wiscasset and what they expect from the department, Cline said.

"Without the assistance of those part-time employees, we could not maintain 24/7 coverage for this town," he said.

The department also works closely with the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office, a benefit of their offices being within throwing distance of one another.

"[With] Wiscasset being the county seat and having the sheriff's department housed here, I'm very fortunate to have access to a lot of their resources, the detective's division being one of those resources," Cline said.

Cline, who worked previously for police departments in Biddeford and Hooksett, N.H., said he sees no territorial boundaries among the law enforcement agencies within Lincoln County, instead collaboration and cooperation.

"It's been very refreshing when I came to Lincoln County to see how the various agencies worked together," he said.

In the two years he has been with the department, Cline said he has seen a lot of Wiscasset's needs stem from the volume of traffic moving through and stopping in the town.

"Wiscasset is a tourist attraction. There's many locations in Wiscasset that people come to see, and it's also a through-way to Midcoast Maine," he said. "With that comes an extreme amount of traffic."

The department receives a lot of motor vehicle erratic operations reports, especially in the summer months, which they try to deal with as best they can, Cline said.

"Sometimes those complaints are the result of someone getting mad at someone else," he said.

The complaints take a lot of the department's time and tie up the officer on duty while they deal with the issues, but the complaints cannot be overlooked since the operator may have been drinking or may be endangering the safety of the public, Cline said.

"They have to be addressed, each and every one of them," he said.

Having the police department visible in the community is a deterrent in and of itself, for preventing both illegal behavior and traffic accidents, Cline said.

"People are a lot more observant when they know you've got a proactive police department out there watching the activity," he said.

Cline's style of policing is one based on maximizing officer contact with the public, either through stopping violators on the roadways or through building relationships with businesses and community members.

"Without that contact, you don't have that information sharing; you don't have that, for a lack of a better term, that intelligence gathering," he said.

Being proactive, as the department has been through increased traffic enforcement since Cline took the reins, is one way to make those contacts, Cline said.

Not everyone who gets stopped for a violation receives a citation, but traffic stops give the police a better chance to make contact with people who are aiming to break into a home or deal drugs, Cline said.

"Those folks that are looking to conduct illicit behavior are not walking from point A to point B to do that," he said.

Officer discretion is a tool in the department's tool belt to provide service without always ending in an arrest, a citation, or charging someone with a crime, Cline said.

In a recent example, someone had left a large trailer on a commercial property, and the police tracked down the trailer's owner to have them remove it as a way to satisfy the property owner.

"Technically and legally it's a criminal trespass, but all the complainant was looking for was to have the trailer removed from the property. We met that objective without having to charge somebody," Cline said.

The department is less flexible in certain other areas of enforcement, such as with domestic violence situations, where Cline said arrests are made when possible, and the same with bail conditions, such as not being allowed at a certain residence or a prohibition of possessing drugs or alcohol.

"If we find you in possession of those things, you're going to be arrested. It's not an 'if,' it's going to happen," he said.

Cline said there is plenty of police work, both proactive and reactive, to be done in Wiscasset, but he believes seeking out things which may cause pain, discomfort, or annoyance to the public serves the community best.

"The best kind of police work is when you go out and find some. You help people before they even know they need help," he said.

Cline described himself as "firm believer" in community policing, a system based on relationships between the public and the police, and said trust between the community and the police department in a small town like Wiscasset is critical.

He believes relationships have developed over the last two years which have increased the public's trust in the department.

"Now we have folks coming that will come in and give us the names of suspects that have committed crimes and we've been able to solve cases that way," he said.

The relationships are not specific to Cline alone, as he said he encourages his officers to get out of the patrol car, meeting people, and make contact with local business owners.

"The big thing for me is getting out and meeting the public, walking down main street and talking with people," he said.

Keeping the community in mind, Cline said the department provides a number of services which rarely reach the public's eyes.

As an example, mental health interventions by officers with someone considering suicide are common but personal in nature, he said.

"We don't share that in the newspaper, but we deal with that on a fairly regular basis," he said.

Other times, officers may intervene with a high school student who is either disruptive or may have stolen something, but the incident is not at the level that the school wishes to report it, he said.

Cline said he feels all the principals at the schools are confident an officer will be there to handle complaints when they call.

Though the department already tries to have officers available during things like the Homecoming dance or during sporting events, staff at the schools and Wiscasset Community Center will reach out to the department when they notice something unusual, Cline said.

"We have a very good rapport with the staff at the schools and parks and recreation staff at the community center," he said.

Not always focused on the negative side of enforcement, the department also looks for positive ways to achieve its enforcement goals, such as helping children learn about making better decisions or occasionally rewarding compliance.

Recently, Patrol Officer Perry Hatch stood outside Wiscasset Speedway handing out "tickets" as a part of the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety's "You've Been Ticketed" promotion, Cline said.

Watching for folks who had their seat belts on, Hatch would give them a "ticket" they could redeem inside the speedway for a free t-shirt.

"In my mind, that's an example of community policing at its best. You're giving someone a ticket but it's in a positive manner," Cline said. "Nobody likes to get a ticket, I understand that, but there's a reason for those things. It's to get voluntary compliance out of the motoring public."

In regard to budgets, Cline said, "I think we've established that there's a very clear need for a police department in Wiscasset, and not just a police department but a full-time police department."

In a budget proposed earlier this year for the department, the department would have undergone a cut of roughly 988 hours, which would have left the town without coverage 104 hours per year, or 2 hours per week.

The proposal was amended to restore the 104 hours, but pay cuts to the department's two "permanent part-time" officers went through and the $35,427 budget was eventually approved by the voters.

Under the decrease in funding, Cline said he and Town Manager Laurie Smith have attempted to work within the budget with any decrease in services.

"If the budget was cut further, I think we would be having a different discussion as far as level of services," he said.

Cline said he understands there are needs to cut various areas of a town's budget, but in his professional and personal opinion, public safety is not necessarily the area which should shoulder the cuts.

"That's not to say any one department is less important than another, but I think you need to look hard at your public safety resources," he said. "If those are cut, who are you going to call when there's an emergency?"

No matter what the budget is, there should be a continuation of service, Cline said.

"The one thing I want people to take away at the end of the day with Wiscasset Police Department is we will always be professional, we will always be respectful, and we will always treat you fair ... whether you are the offender or the victim," he said.

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