BELFAST — With the Nov. 2018 Election Day eight-plus months away, the competition for the Waldo County Sheriff seat is already underway, with both candidates taking to social media in an effort to reach potential voters.
Waldo County Sheriff Jeffrey Trafton, of Thorndike and who is running on the Republican ticket, says his prime motivation for the early campaign start is an effort to battle misinformation he believes is leading to undue worry among some Waldo County citizens.
“I want to make sure the truth is out there, so that the misinformation doesn’t upset people or scare people,” he said. “With some of the misinformation that’s out there, there are some folks who are concerned for safety, and I just don’t think that needs to happen.”
Trafton is referencing questions about the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center (MCRRC), in Belfast.
The MCRRC is a residential facility that is designed “to give incarcerated men the skills and experience they need to live successfully as citizens and employees after they transition into their home communities,” according to the programs page on the Volunteers of America website.
The center provides over 40 hours of treatment every week, while also providing educational and vocational opportunities that focus on a reduction in recidivism. The center also gives residents the opportunity to practice their newly acquired skills.
Run by the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with Volunteers of America Northern New England (VOA), the program’s mission is a simple one: “your future is our mission.” The words are among the first visible upon entering the center.
Some Waldo County residents have asked how the center is funded, and whether the MCRRC leads to an increase in crime by bringing outsiders to the county. Though incarcerated Waldo County inmates are the first priority, the center accepts inmates from several other surrounding counties, including Hancock, Knox, and Sagadahoc, in addition to state prisons.
Trafton said the answers are readily available and provides a 2015 study of the MCRRC completed by former Waldo County Sheriff Scott Story. The study is also available on Waldo County’s government website.
Sheriff for the last three years, Trafton has three adult daughters, in addition to three grandchildren. Trafton’s only son was killed 12 years earlier in a car accident, he said, exhaling deeply before adding, “we have an awesome family, awesome kids, and they were all raised in Waldo County.”
Familial pain is part of what initially drew Trafton to a career in law enforcement. Personally affected by domestic violence and bullying as a child, Trafton said he wanted to become a police officer to fight bullies.
“And there is no bigger bully than a domestic violence abuser,” he said.
A native Mainer, Trafton grew up in Wellington, which is in the southeast corner of Piscataquis County.
Trafton’s career in law enforcement has spanned over three decades and three agencies. Over the course of those 34 years he has had plenty of time to build a lengthy resume.
Despite knowing as a teen that he wanted to be in law enforcement, the minimum age for new officers was raised to 21 in the 1980s. After graduating from Piscataquis Community High School in Guilford in 1980, Trafton, was accepted into Bangor Community College’s law enforcement program. He said it was while sitting in orientation that he made a decision about how to spend the next several years of his life.
“So I left the orientation and a few days later I was in the Marine Corps in Paris Island, South Carolina, in boot camp, wondering if I had made a mistake,” he said, laughing. “But no, my four years in the Marines was awesome.”
Trafton rose to the rank of sergeant before concluding his time with the Marines at 22. It was then that Trafton returned to his first passion: law enforcement.
After graduating from the Police Academy in 1984, Trafton’s first job in law enforcement was as a trooper with the Maine State Police, with Waldo County as his first assignment. It was then that he bought a home in Thorndike, and has been in a Waldo County resident ever since.
Over his 10 years as a state trooper, Trafton said he made many friends at the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office, since they were whom he relied on for backup.
Promoted to sergeant in 1995, Trafton was responsible for overseeing all troopers patrolling the midcoast region. In 1996 he transferred to the Maine State Police’s Skowhegan barracks, where he was responsible for supervising the troopers in Somerset, Franklin, and Kennebec counties.
Appointed as lieutenant of Maine State Police Troop D in 2000, Trafton ended his career at the state police after spending his final five years with the department as the Midcoast commander, responsible for overseeing all troopers and patrol operations in Lincoln, Knox, Sagadahoc, Waldo, and half of Kennebec counties.
Trafton juggled a dual career for most of his time with the state police, also working as a member of the Maine National Guard. After attending the Officer Candidate School at the Maine Military Academy, he received a commission to second lieutenant. Trafton served as Platoon Leader and Executive Officer in the 262nd Engineer Battalion and the 133rd Engineer Battalion.
Promoted to captain in 2005, Trafton ended his career with the Maine Army National Guard as commanding officer of Charlie Company, followed by Alpha Company of the 133rd Engineer Battalion.
Also in 2005, Trafton retired from the Maine State Police, accepting the position of Belfast Police Chief after then-Chief Allen Weaver retired in 2004.
After then Belfast Police Chief Allen Weaver announced his retirement in 2004, Trafton accepted a position of the new chief, a position he held for 6.5 years. When becoming a police chief in Maine, Trafton said there is a certification process required through the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, and which he received in 2009.
Trafton said the ability to focus on a specific community was something he hadn’t experienced before. With 12 personnel at the Belfast Police Department, including himself on the force, Trafton initiated a program whereby any cruisers sitting idle during a shift could be used for transportation the elderly to and from doctors’ appointments in Belfast.
Although not every officer believed the task to be police work, Trafton disagreed.
“We had the cars available, we’re funded by taxpayer money, we need to find a way to talk to our senior citizens,” he said in part. “That was a way to connect, and I think it worked.”
In 2011, Trafton said he was invited by Sheriff Story to become his chief deputy, a role he readily accepted given his long-expressed intentions of running for sheriff.
“I had made it known for many years that I wanted to be sheriff in Waldo County,” he said. “Scott Story was a close friend of mine, so I wasn’t going to run against him. I was waiting for him to retire, but at the same time I had built my career.”
When Story retired, Trafton ran for the sheriff’s seat unopposed. He was elected in November 2014, and took office in January 2015.
Trafton said law enforcement is all community-based, something he tells all new deputies.
“I talk to them about the kind of policing I believe in, and what I want us to conduct with the citizens of Waldo County — the folks that live here, visit here, and play here, is compassionate policing,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that I don’t think there are bad people out there, and those people need to be incarcerated, and we need to put them in jail, but not everybody is bad.”
Though he estimates local law enforcement deal with the same five percent of people 95 percent of the time, Trafton said it’s important to interact with the other 95 percent of the population with whom police don’t have regular contact.
That includes the county’s elderly population, he said. A member of Waldo County Triad since its inception in 2000, he said many of the elderly who are victimized fail to come forward out of embarrassment. Triad offers local seniors daily assurance phone calls, the collection and disposal of unwanted medications, information on current scams, and distributes warm clothing and blankets.
Trafton has been chairman of the TRIAD since 2011.
“I’m proud of that,” he said. “In my mind that’s truly community policing.”
Work with Waldo County municipalities
After being elected in 2014, Trafton said one of his first orders of business was to attend selectmen's meetings in each of the town in Waldo County.
Although he said he keeps in contact with every town, Trafton said those who don’t have everyday dealings with law enforcement tend not to keep up to date with the sheriff’s department.
“Three-plus years later I’ll still go somewhere and they’ll say, ‘I thought Scott Story was our sheriff,’ because people, if they aren’t involved with law enforcement, they don’t know,” he said. “So it’s our job to educate them and let people know.”
Trafton said being respectful towards the public has long-term effects in the community.
“If you treat them with respect, five years later when there is a burglary across the road from their house and you’re the officer and you treated them with respect, they’ll see you and come talk to you,” he said. “If you treat them like crap and make them feel like dirt when you [arrest them], they’re not going to talk to you. And if people don’t talk to a police officer that police officer will not be successful.”
Trafton, who ran a dual career as a member and eventual commander in the Army National Guard, said one of the biggest issues currently facing Waldo County is domestic violence, which is both important, and personal, to him.
“Domestic violence has always been huge for me because I lived it when I was a kid,” he said.
Early on in his time at the sheriff’s office, Trafton said he restarted a domestic violence task force. The task force consists of a domestic violence detective, Trafton, members of the District Attorney’s Office, and several advocates, including an attorney from New Hope for Women.
The team is responsible for helping women escape violent, often life-threatening, situations. Interventions range from assisting with planning to actually moving victims outside of the county.
“We’ve hidden people and we’ll continue to do that. Those are for the really bad cases,” he said.
Trafton is responsible for reapplying annually for grant funding to support a dedicated domestic violence detective. Detective Jim Greeley is currently in that position for his second year.
The task force also has a grant from the Maine Community Foundation that provides emergency funds for those without the means to leave abusers who often control every aspect of a victim’s life, such as bank accounts to the amount of gas in a car.
Trafton also started a proximity alert system to track domestic violence offenders and ensure they stay away from their victims.
The system got its start after Amy Lake, a Dexter mother, and her two children were killed in 2011 by her husband, who then turned the gun on himself.
Another major issue facing Waldo County is the opioid epidemic, according to Trafton, who also sits on an opioid task force that was organized by the Legislature.
“Maine Senate President Michael Thibodeau asked me to sit on the task force, and I was happy to do it,” he said. “It was a huge eye-opener and it’s a huge problem. People are dying. We need to do something.”
Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of opioids, is carried by both Belfast Police and members of the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office.
As for what’s next, Trafton said he is hoping to have the chance to debate his opponent in a public forum. The only other competitor currently for the sheriff’s seat is Belfast Police Sergeant John Gibbs, who has not yet filed with the Maine Commission on Government Ethics and Practices.
Trafton’s political committee consists of treasurer Jessica Porter, Lorraine Trundy and Scott Story.
“I definitely am ready [for a debate],” said Trafton. “I know it’s early in the process, but I can defend everything we’re doing here at the sheriff’s office.”
With 34 years under his belt, there was at least one rumor that Trafton intended to retire, though he said that has never been on the agenda.
“I’ll retire someday,” he said, laughing. “I have no idea where [the idea of retiring] is coming from, anybody who knows me knows that I fully intended to run for reelection. There was never any question.”
Trafton, who categorized the rumor as misinformation, said he wanted to address another concern he had heard — the lack of contested sheriff races in the area.
The last Waldo County Sheriff contested race was in 1993 when then-Sheriff John Ford’s brother-in-law ran against him.
When Story retired in 2014, Trafton said he fully expected someone would run against him, and was surprised when no one did, given the 16 years Story served as sheriff.
“I just want the people to know that the sheriff’s office is not a good old boys’ club,” he said. You have to be elected, you have to earn the office. “It’s important for people to know, for the citizens of this county to know, we are not trying to hide anything. We work very hard to do do the right thing. That’s the basis of everything we do here.”
Trafton said anyone with concerns is welcome to call him or to swing by the sheriff’s office anytime.
“I’m willing to talk to anybody,” he said. “People walk up to the window here at the sheriff’s office and ask to see the sheriff, and if I’m here, they can come in, because I don’t turn people away.”
He is happy to talk about the sheriff’s office budget and said he tries to be frugal about spending.
“We’re trying to be good stewards of taxpayer money, because we all pay taxes, and nobody here at the sheriff’s office is making a ton of money,” he said. “The majority [of our employees] live in Waldo County, so we all have a stake in it, too.”
He wants voters to remember these three points: “I’m trained, I’m qualified, I’m already doing the job, and I think I’m doing it [well],” he said.
Erica Thoms can be reached at email@example.com