Searsport police chief looks to make the move to sheriff

Tue, 05/24/2022 - 3:15pm

    SEARSPORT — Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton plans to retire after eight years in his position, and two candidates have announced their candidacy for the seat: Chief Deputy Jason Trundy, and Searsport Police Chief Todd Boisvert, of Searsport. Elections will be held Nov. 8.

    Boisvert’s career in law enforcement began after trying his hand at other professions, including four years spent in the Air Force following high school graduation. Upon the conclusion of his time with the Air Force, aged 24-25, he worked in construction until a help-wanted ad set his life on a new course. 

    “I saw an advertisement for a police/fire dispatcher,” he said. “I took the test and got hired, and that got me interested in law enforcement.”

    Boisvert worked as a dispatcher for about 18 months before taking a police test for Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and got hired.

    “I spent 28 years there,” he said, adding that he “loved it.” 

    “It was a great career. I spent my first 12 years in the uniform division, patrol, then I worked [in] community policing [as a] school resource officer. I was [also] assigned to a beat,” Boisvert said, listing off his many positions over his time with WPD. “I worked bike patrol, I worked foot patrol, I worked everything.”

    He then progressed through the ranks and got promoted to sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and finished his career there as captain, he said. 

    As a captain, Boisvert said he was the uniformed commander, “I oversaw 84 personnel, both civilian and sworn law enforcement. As the uniform commander, I [also] oversaw the day to day operations of the uniform patrol division, which included a 15 cell block jail.”

    Approximately two and a half years ago, Boisvert made his way to Maine, after deciding he’d “like to make the jump to being a chief,” explaining, “I saw Searsport advertised [for an opening for police chief]... My wife and I had always wanted to move to Maine, so I said, ‘hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ I applied and one thing led to another and they offered me the job. I went home to my wife and said, ‘they offered me the job, what do I do now,’” he said with a chuckle. “She said, ‘let’s go for it,’ and that’s how I got here.”

    New beginnings

    Boisvert began his position as Searsport Police Chief in January 2020. 

    The Woonsocket Police Department oversees a population of 41,616 spread over just under eight square miles, with a staff of 101 sworn officers, when the roster is full.

    The Waldo County Sheriff’s Department, in comparison, has a similar population at 39,723; however the population is spread over 730 square land miles, currently covered by 22 sworn officers. Despite the difference in population density, Boisvert said crime is much the same. 

    “Crime is the same. More of it down there, but it’s really the same,” he said, before highlighting one of Waldo County’s known issues. “I was taken aback a little bit about the amount of drug activities that there are in Waldo County in general. Other than that there have been no surprises, you know, crime is crime. 

    “We do the best that we can at combating it, and to me, law enforcement has become less proactive and more reactive in the past few years, and I think it’s the whole, you know, defunding the police, those types of things, that have got police on their heels a little bit,” Boisvert said. “I’m not saying it’s justified, but it’s  just not there. Law enforcement in general is kind of on their heels a bit more. That’s what’s creating the more reactive approach than the proactive approach.”

    When Boisvert talks about being proactive, he said he means: “Getting our there into the communities and slowing those cars down that are speeding and those types of things that are. Although they may seem little, that’s when it’s important to the community and the people,” he said, noting that speeding is the biggest complaint he gets in Searsport. 

    “That’s not exclusive to Searsport. I bet if you talked to people in Belfast, people in Winterport, that is one of their concerns. So I think we need to, as law enforcement, get back into the communities and more in touch with the people within the community. What do they want? What are they expecting from Searsport Police, the Waldo County Sheriff’s Department, [and] law enforcement in general?”

    Taxpayers in mind

    With 22 sworn officers, and the expansive geography of Waldo County, Boisvert said he would like to increase the number, but admitted doing so is difficult given the cost to taxpayers. 

    “You’re already asking a lot of the taxpayer, but there are ways around it, you know, there are grants out there for funding cops grants. I don’t know if the sheriff’s office would qualify, but [I’ve] got to look into it,” he said, adding that even partial grant funding to offset the cost would make a difference. 

    Beyond concerns over how additional officers might be funded, Boisvert said there is concern over actually finding people to fill the positions, saying that even in Woonsocket the police department has gone from 105 sworn officers when full, down to 80 current officers. 

    “The overtime budget has got to be through the ceiling,” Boisvert said. “You have to be responsible to the taxpayer, and if you are, when you really need something, and you have to ask for something? They’ll usually support you…,” he said in part. 

    Moving up the ranks

    Over his 30 years in law enforcement, Boisvert said there are a number of roles he found especially interesting and/or rewarding. One of those positions is when he was promoted to captain, one of three captains for the department. While Boisvert was the captain of operations, there were also detective and uniform captains serving. 

    One of the more challenging roles Boisvert has held was his time serving three years with internal affairs, joking that he didn’t get invited to a lot of Christmas parties or cookouts during that period. 

    “That was challenging. I did not enjoy it, but it was a good experience, a learning experience.

    “Probably one of my favorites was that I was assigned to the weapons of mass destruction team, and I was one of the team leaders. I was SWAT commander for the department for several years. It’s a lieutenant's position.”

    The WMD team is tasked with mitigating any terrorist threats, with branches located in Woonsocket, Warwick, Providence, and Newport, which cover their own areas. The Rhode Island State Police are also part of the WMD team. Wherever the threat occurs the closest agency is first to respond, while all other teams are enroute. 

    “It was great. It did a lot of really good things for Rhode Island law enforcement because it got all those departments talking and all on the same page,” Boisvert said. “I still talk to guys that I was on that team with. I made some really good contacts, and really great friends,” he said.

    “Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate,” Boisvert said before listing some of his accomplishments. 

    “I have an associate’s degree, I got a bachelor's degree, I went on and got my master’s degree from Norwich University. I was lucky enough to attend the FBI National Academy,” he said. “That was a wonderful experience. I’ve had a great career.”

    Philosophy of law enforcement

    Asked whether his philosophy of law enforcement is more rehabilitative or punitive, Boisvert said: “I believe in the rule of law, with compassion. Everybody deserves a second chance. They do. We just have to, kind of mitigate it, as to, at some point, when people aren’t learning from their mistakes, that’s when the punitive side of me comes in. There’s a victim. Are we doing the victim justice if we continue to go easy on someone who’s a repeat offender of things?”

    Boisvert said he is in favor of Waldo County’s Reentry Center, where those who are close to the end of their incarceration and satisfy a list of requirements are allowed to serve the remainder of their time with programming designed to lower recidivism. 

    “Yes, but I think I would, again, I need to get there and not simply go by a lot of things I’m being told. But I think it needs to be tweaked a little bit. People, their feet need to be held to the fire. Within the rules, I’m not saying I’m going to be implementing a bunch of new rules. The rules are what they are, [but] if they’re trying to work outside of that, then maybe the program is not for them,” he said.

    One way Boisvert thinks the reentry center can be “used even more than it is,” would be participating in electronic monitoring. “I think I would take more advantage of it than is currently being used,” he said.

    Top three issues facing Waldo County

    When asked what the top three issues facing Waldo County in 2022 and moving forward are, Boisvert said: 

    “Drugs,” he said. “My philosophy on it is, if I can, and we, as law enforcement, can do a better job at stopping the drugs from coming in, because I’m not going after the user. To me the user is the victim, and if I can stop, or we can stop, cause it’s not going to be me, the drugs from coming in and target the people bringing them in… We fix my number two and number three problems.” 

    Boisvert said theft is his second top issue facing Waldo County.

    “Why do you think all these catalytic converters are being stolen,” he said. “That is directly related to drugs. If you don’t need to steal something to satisfy a habit… you know, you see what I’m saying? I fix other problems by fixing the drug problem.”

    Boisvert said that the third biggest issue facing Waldo County is: “Probably mental health, which… mental health… I kind of look at it as society itself is not doing enough for people and I’m not sure why. If I’m successful in becoming sheriff, I may be able to have more influence on getting people help and getting those resources in place. I think law enforcement should be dealing with law enforcement; however, we absolutely need the support from mental health workers and the Department of Health [and Human Services], and whatnot.”

    Community liaison concerns

    When asked whether that means he supports the community liaison program, Boisvert said, “absolutely.”

    “I think it's a great program,” he said.  “The funding, one, and the way it is implemented. Law enforcement has always been referring and asking for help and resources, that side, whether it's drug abuse, or mental health, or what not. We’ve always been doing that, and we’re going to continue to do it. I’m just not confident that we can use that to supplement law enforcement. Because when you call for the police — even if it's as simple as a property line dispute — If you’re calling the police it's because things became heated and now we really can’t [allow] a CLO to mitigate that problem between the people. It's still going to require law enforcement, at least initially,” Boisvert said. “One hundred percent.”

    He continued:  “You’ve got these two people who are in a dispute over a property line, the police get there, they calm things down, explain to people that this is really a civil matter, I’m going to refer you to a CLO who can come in and talk to you. But that initial response is always going to be law enforcement, and we’ve always done that on those types of things,” he said. 

    And if the call for service involved an adult having a mental health episode?

    “I still think you’re going to need a law enforcement response,” he said. “We’re going to lean on the CLO once the [law enforcement officer] gets there and things are calmed down. I’m not comfortable sending someone other than LE into that initial [scene].” 

    Boisvert said he hasn’t looked into the programs run or overseen by the sheriff’s office.

    “Within the sheriff’s office, no,” he said. “I’ve tried to read up on [the programs] and see what they’re about. Although we were briefed, I think it was two weeks ago, the CLOs came over here and gave us a briefing on what they do and what not, because Searsport hadn’t really been using them. We didn’t know what it was about.”

    He then noted: “We did have, right after they came here and briefed us, we did have a call that we thought they could use [a CLO], and no one was available…. That can happen. I don’t hold it against them, things like that happen.”

    What voters should know

    Boisvert said he would like readers and voters to know:

    “I believe that I’m a people person and the most valuable that you have in the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office is their personnel. They cost the most, which is OK. They’re your most valuable resource. I want them to know I will 100 percent listen to them, work with them. I get the buck would stop with the sheriff, but they absolutely, under my command, would have a say in everything and the direction that the sheriff’s office goes.”

    Boisvert said the only positions that would change should he be elected are sheriff and chief deputy, which is a role currently filled by his competitor Jason Trundy. 

    Unlike Trundy, who has tapped current lieutenant Matt Curtis to take over as chief deputy, Boisvert declined to identify his choice(s) as to who would be his pick for chief deputy. 

    “I haven’t announced who my chief deputy would be, because I want people to vote for me,” he said. “I’m not 100 percent; I have people in mind. The chief deputy’s pick for chief deputy is the lieutenant, and he would stay. I have had several conversations about Matt [Curtis] and have talked to people about Matt Curtis, and I would want him to stay, to be honest. 

    “I just think I can make a difference in Waldo [County],” he added.

    I bring a lot of experience with me,” he said. “I spent time in community policing, it’s important. In different departments throughout the country, they’ll change things a little bit, but it's all about forming those relationships with the community. I guarantee you I can drive to any town and find people that say I don’t know any of the deputies.” 

    “You remember that old people would say years ago, remember that beat cop?” harkening back to his time in Woonsocket,  “It was so and so, he used to kick me in the butt, or whatever, and I don’t find that right now. I think we can do it. I think we can get a better connection between the S.O., the deputies that are on the road working [in] the different towns and working in different areas… I don’t want to say, I assign you to a specific area, so people will know, that’s my deputy. That would be a goal, but it’s a little bit of a heavy lift with only 22 personnel the way they’re currently structured.”

    Given that Waldo County comprises 25 towns and the City of Belfast, and with a land area of 730 square miles, Boisvert said he thinks perhaps substations would help with deputy visibility. This would make it so that deputies were not required to travel to the Belfast office in order to file a report.

    “Just things that I’m rattling around,” Boisvert said. 

    Erica Thoms can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com