Thomaston police expect to ‘set the standard’ for future small-town Maine law enforcement

Mon, 09/19/2022 - 8:00pm

    THOMASTON — Thomaston Police Chief Tim Hoppe is proposing a solution to his department’s staff shortage that’s a first of its kind in the realm of Maine law enforcement.

    “I really think that we are going to have the most applications we’ve ever seen in this department,” said Hoppe.

    But first, residents must approve an additional $147,406 for the fiscal year 2022-23 Police Department budget. That vote will take place Wednesday, Sept. 28, at a special town meeting that starts at 6 p.m. The Select Board stated unanimous approval when the proposal was discussed during the Sept. 19 meeting. Audience members asked questions during the meeting, though no one expressed disapproval.

    According to Hoppe, current Thomaston police officers are excited to try a new type of community policing that allows them to work 48 hours on and then take 96 hours off. For them, it’s a chance to watch their children grow up, and to reduce the cost of childcare.

    Hoppe stumbled onto a similar experiment from the state of Washington that’s now a year in. The experimenting chief told Hoppe that employees have more rest time and family time between shifts. Morale has improved. The work level has increased, and the reports they produce are of a higher quality.

    Approval of Hoppe’s proposal will also lead to full-time coverage in Thomaston for the first time ever.

    “I’m excited about it because I’m actually part of it,” said Hoppe, who’d be covering shifts right along with the other workers.

    To make it work here, officers would work in teams of two – a rare treat for Thomaston officers, who usually work their 10-hour shifts alone. For new officers, being sent out on their own with no support can be discouraging, according to Hoppe. The nights can be lonely, and when somebody calls out sick, the other officers’ schedules get scrambled in order to fill the gap.

    Hoppe aims to hire officers with at least five years of experience. With the new 48 hour schedule, officers would be paid for 36 hours. They’d patrol alone, yet with the comfort of knowing that another officer were close at hand. Breaks and sleeping would be staggered, allowing each officer six hours of downtime during the night. A room would be designated within a yet-to-be-used wing of the former elementary school that now houses the police station, municipal departments, and food pantry. The estimated price tag for renovations is $10,000 – to be subtracted from the $147, 406. (Beds and resources would also be available for volunteer EMS during the night, according to Town Manager Kara George.)

    With bathrooms already in existence, and a full kitchen on its way for the upcoming warming shelter project, renovating the space and purchasing bedroom furniture would remain the priority.

    One resident said: “I am just so pleased that Tim has reached out beyond us to find a greater solution to this.”


    Next week, a Thomaston police officer will be recognized by the Town for his recent role in helping to save a life during a medical call. The credit not only belongs to him, but to the mere fact that an officer was even on duty at the time.

    Many Thomaston residents are unaware that the town lacks 24-hour coverage, according to Hoppe. In fact, Thomaston PD doesn’t have full-time weekend coverage, and another three evenings per week must resort to on-call.

    For awhile, TPD contracted for coverage from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. But, the KCSO has lost a few deputies of their own recently, and even prior to those vacancies, the per-hour cost charged by the SO wasn’t something TPD could sustain.

    With every local law enforcement agency vying to fill positions with the officers who live, or are willing to relocate to this region (Maine State Police has 40 vacancies), the small town of Thomaston is fighting to hold its own.

    “We’re not the same town we used to be 20-30 years ago,” said George. “The development in this town, especially on the east end, and I would say residentially, too, we’ve had a growth.”

    Thomaston now has more year-round residents than they’ve ever had, according to Hoppe.

    Currently, some TPD officers who live nearby will finish their ten hour shifts and take call through the night until they start up again the next morning with their next 10 hours. Sometimes, they get to sleep. Sometimes, they are on the job through it all. They receive call pay, but it’s not a living, salary-wise or life-wise. When they are on call, they must be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. They can’t go out for the evening. They can’t commit to anything other than work.

    The department has four full-time officers and one reserve officer. Hoppe aims for seven full-time employees, but doesn’t want to steal from his local mutual aid organizations. Nor can he continue trying to tap into a local pool that’s run dry.

    “The beauty of it is, not everyone can do it,” said Hoppe. “We kind of separate ourselves with the ability to offer that whole package. It pulls us out of the constant competition of wages.”

    So, why not expand the sphere and cater to what officers want – which is more family time? Appeal to officers from around the state who are willing to come to the coast for two days at a time, have a bed provided, do their time, and return to their loved ones, all while earning a living wage.

    In the realm of police departments with 10 or less officers in Maine, he said, “we’ll basically set the standard for the future, moving forward.”

    “It’s a quality of life,” said Hoppe. “I wish I had this schedule when my kids were younger.”


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