With a reelection campaign behind him, Waldo County Sheriff Jeffrey Trafton looks ahead to refine programs

Posted:  Tuesday, November 20, 2018 - 8:00am
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BELFAST — It is Nov. 13, exactly one week after securing his next term that newly reelected Waldo County Sheriff Jeffrey Trafton clears time in his schedule to discuss his time campaigning and how he envisions his next four years on the job.

Following months campaigning, Trafton said he spent the last nerve-wracking hours of election night at home with his family and chief deputy.  

“My kids all came over to my house and a bunch of my family members and [Chief Deputy Jason Trundy] and his wife [came over],” he said.

Earlier in the day, Trafton made calls to each of the 26 towns in Waldo County to find out how he could be notified of the results from each location. It wasn’t until around 9 p.m. that the first results started to trickle in with the last result of the evening coming around 3 a.m.

“It was a long night, but we had fun. It was stressful at times because my opponent won three towns, but I managed to win 23 towns and it was enough,” Trafton said. “Slowly through the night, we saw a pattern emerging that I was pulling away from him.”

Belfast Police Sergeant John Gibbs, who ran against Trafton, received 8,338 votes compared to Trafton’s 10,575. It was the Waldo County’s first contested sheriff’s office race in several decades.

Around 2:30 a.m. he received word from a local news agency that they were calling the race in his favor, bringing an end to the evening’s bated breath.

The occasionally contentious campaign — being Waldo County’s first contested sheriff’s race in several decades — was a different experience than his first run at election, when he ran unopposed.

Trafton said he had been biding his time for years before his initial run for sheriff, waiting for friend and then-Sheriff Scott Story to retire after 14 years at the helm.

“I always told him that I wasn’t going to run against him, but when he was done I was going to run…. So I figured there’d be other folks waiting, kind of like I did, but they never materialized,” Trafton said.

Though the recent campaign may have held its challenges, he said the toughest part was just not knowing whether or not he was going to have a job.

He and his wife have a financial plan that they strictly adhere to.

“It definitely would have affected that,” he said. “I was prepared to go job hunting and I would have found another job somewhere else, but my heart was here at the sheriff’s office.”

Winning the election not only served to secure the position Trafton loves, but also to reinforce the work he has been doing the last four years.

“Now looking back at [the campaign], I’m glad I went through it and I feel like it kind of validates my first four years,” he said. “The majority of the people felt like I was doing OK and approved of the job I was doing,” Trafton said.

That sentiment stretches to several programs that became examples of where Trafton and his opponent differed. That included the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center, the community garden, and approaches to ending domestic violence.

“The results of the election validate all of the things we’re doing and we’re going to continue to do those things,” he said of the programs.

Impressions and observations

On the campaign trail, Trafton talked with the people of Waldo County, and learned, he said, that he had more supporters in the outer towns of the county than he had realized.

He also saw how pervasive the isolation among seniors is in Waldo County.

“I think that it’s more prevalent than I had realized, and I’ve been with Triad since 2005,” he said. “We’re dealing with senior issues all the time. There’s more social isolation out there for seniors than I had realized.”

According to its website, “Waldo County Triad is a partnership of citizens, law enforcement, and other local organizations dedicated to the improvement of the safety of older Waldo County residents through education and service.”

The group puts out quarterly newsletters about issues and events concerning area seniors.

While Aging Well in Waldo County also focuses on the elderly, it tries to ensure the county is an “age-friendly community.”

Formed in 2016, the group's mission statement is: “to mobilize our communities to identify and address the needs of our aging friends and neighbors, striving for inclusive, supportive and safe communities for all.”

During his time talking to the residents of Waldo County, Trafton queried their opinions on the reentry center, and if it should close.

“Overwhelmingly people said ‘no, we need to keep going with the reentry center,’ and I got that answer from conservatives and folks more on the left.”

Looking forward

The issue of 24-hour coverage is also being examined, with Trafton saying he is considering staggering coverage as a way to address extend hours of active coverage. Currently, there are deputies actively on duty between the hours of 6 a.m. through 2 a.m., with a deputy on call throughout the four-hour lapse.

With 98 percent of service calls coming between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., there is a need to ensure that there are enough deputies on duty to handle the call volume, according to Trafton, who said the sheriff’s office is looking at ways to extend coverage.

Trafton said an active duty deputy doesn’t necessarily mean service calls would be answered faster, given how vast the area of coverage is.  Waldo County encompasses more than 850 square miles and has more than 39,000 residents (2016).

“[If] we have an emergency call in Burnham but the deputy on duty at 3:30 a.m. is in Northport…. I have deputies that live in the Unity/Burnham area and I can get them there quicker than I can getting a deputy from Northport,” he said. “It’s a struggle.”

Trafton said he also has to consider the taxpayer. He said many Waldo County residents already struggle with taxes.

Still, the concern did not fall on deaf ears, Trafton said. Instead of an additional shift and the associated costs, Trafton is looking into staggering the hours of coverage. Instead of all the deputies falling into one of two shifts, there would be those who remained on the job until 3 a.m. and those that started at 5 a.m., halving the hours reliant on on-call deputies.

“But we’ve got to make sure that I have enough deputies on duty between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. that we can cover all the activity, because a lot of the time we have calls coming in all at the same time.”

Reentry Center

“As far as the reentry center, we’re constantly reevaluating, changing and tweaking that because we want to stay cutting edge. We want [it] to work,” Trafton said.

The programs at the reentry center are also frequently changing as residents give feedback on which programs are helpful and which are not.

“The program looks nothing today like it did in 2010 when they opened the doors… it’s a completely different program,” he said.

Trafton said his efforts to combat domestic violence in the area will also continue into the next term.

“We’re never going to stop fighting the battle, so we’re going to keep moving ahead there,” he said.

Words for his county

Trafton had this to say following the Nov. 6 election:

“I want to say thanks and that it truly is one of the greatest honors of my life and I’ll continue to do the best I can. I appreciate the trust and faith that the voters have put in me and my goal has always been to leave the sheriff’s office better than it was when I got here, and it was pretty good when I got here, it really was. It’s a very strong, very ethical law enforcement division and civil division…. So thank you is the thing that comes to my mind that I’d like to say.”

Trafton’s swearing-in will take place at the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office Jan. 4.


Erica Thoms can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com