Staffing shortages behind Maine State Police proposal reducing call sharing agreements

AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Maine State Police have announced a plan to reduce their call share agreements with eight counties.

We first brought you this story on Friday, speaking with Maine State Police Colonel John Cote.

He explained how call share agreements work and how their proposal would look.

Monday, he speaks about the personnel shortages behind it.

Cote says, "Right now, in each county there are two zones and the county has one and the state police has one. So, what we want to do is divide each county into three zones so that we take one zone which is a little bit smaller than our current deal and the county takes two zones which expands their footprint a little bit."

Cote says they are strapped for new personnel, making it more and more difficult to keep the amount of troopers needed in those counties to cover zones.

He says, "Between operational calls, training, instructing, the responsibilities of our troopers draw them out of those counties frequently so we are just trying to make it more of a balanced workload between those agencies and ours."

According to Cote, State Police have a legislative authorized headcount, which hasn't increased since the late 1970s.

He says, "In this most recent biennium we'd asked for new headcount, and although it was successful in getting through committees, it did not receive funding in appropriations. That really is one of the things that drove us to the idea that, hey if we know we are not getting additional personnel something's got to change if we are going to survive and if we're going to provide services at a level that people expect."

Cote says their request for personnel has been reloaded as part of the supplemental budget for next year and they're hopeful they are provided with those additional resources -- but until then, something has got to give.

He says, "This isn't out of the blue. We have worked to explain our position, educate and meet with the Sheriff's departments over several months and over several meetings but eventually as those conversations stalled out, we've really felt, operationally we need to know where we are headed and what our man power commitments are."

In their proposal to Sheriff's departments, changes would go into affect on January 1st but Cote says there's wiggle room.

Cote says, "As long as we know there are conversations going on with an agreement of even a phased approach to that curtailment of coverage by us, if it takes another 6, 8, 10 months we're in agreement to that. But without conversation, without some sort of negotiation in good faith, we really felt we needed to put a date out there to kind of add that urgency to our message."

In another story airing Monday, Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason gives his take on how the proposed changes would affect his department.

We also spoke with Penobscot County Commissioner, Peter Baldacci who says this new proposal would cost counties a lot of money.