HALLOWELL — With two officers planning departures, the city’s police department will be looking to replace 40% of its full-time staff by the fall.
That comes on the heels of hiring a new chief, Scott MacMaster, who started in April, to replace Eric Nason, who retired after three decades with the department.
The last day for Sgt. Jordan Gaudet is Thursday, after which he will be joining the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office. Meanwhile, Officer Ronald Grotton is considering retiring in September.
Despite the turnover, MacMaster said he doesn’t anticipate any lapses in coverage, though he acknowledged there will a strain on full-time officers — including himself — in the city from being short staffed while the positions are filled.
The department has five full-time and seven part-time, reserve officers. MacMaster said most of city’s part-time officers have full-time jobs, which makes it difficult for them to cover certain shifts.
MacMaster, who has led small departments in Greenville and Richmond prior to becoming Hallowell’s chief, said he will likely cover some daily patrols, while other officers will work 10- and 12-hour shifts, instead of eight-hour-shifts.
“When people call, they’ll get an officer,” MacMaster said. “If anything, it just puts more strain on us and makes me kind of work … patrol and administration during the day.”
He said the department would work to keep overtime to a minimum, but could not provide an estimate of how much the extra hours would cost the city. MacMaster said the department’s budget is liquid enough that if the department does not spend all of its funds in one area, it could cover other expenses.
“It’s so hard to predict (the need for overtime),” he said. “Quite frankly, you could have a protest this weekend and blow it right out of the water.”
City Manager Nate Rudy said the city budgeted $18,000 for police department overtime last year, but spent $27,000. In the upcoming budget year, the city budgeted $23,000 for overtime. He said it would be difficult to forecast what the city may spend on overtime during the turnover period.
Rudy said the city will hired a qualified applicant for the possible “as soon as we can” and have begun interviewing candidates for Gaudet’s position.
MacMaster said he has been immediately calling applicants as part of an “open-ended” interview process, and said the search for someone to fill Gaudet’s position could also aid in finding an eventual replacement for Grotton.
“By having the open-end interviewing, … maybe I can get someone ready with anticipation of the full-time opening in September,” he said, adding Grotton’s replacement could work part-time in the time before his retirement.
MacMaster said he was looking for an officer that fit the needs of the community. He described that role as a jack-of-all-trades, with an emphasis on proactive and community-oriented policing on issues that may not always be criminal, such as animal complaints or neighbor disputes.
“(In) any small town … a huge part of what we’re doing is social work-related,” MacMaster said, adding that an ideal candidate would have “compassion, empathy and understanding.”
When asked if the job search would be inclusive of diverse candidates, Rudy said that the job, like other city jobs, is posted as “equal opporunity” and the city “always hopes to get applicants who also represent minorities.”
MacMaster said diversity may be difficult to find in the pool of law enforcement job candidates in Maine, but he wants the police department to be a reflection of the city it represents.
“To make a well-rounded police department, you look at all of that stuff,” he said. “You have different demographics in your agency itself, so in Hallowell or in Richmond, you’re trying to represent the best you can in people’s community.”
Rudy said MacMaster will likely bring a recommendation to city officials for their ratification after the interview process. MacMaster said he has the most influence over the position, but other officials, like Rudy or the City Council’s Personnel Committee, may be part of the hiring process at times.
NASON IS A RESERVE OFFICER
On June 8, the City Council approved the appointment of former Police Chief Eric Nason as a reserve police officer.
Prior to that official appointment, MacMaster told the Kennebec Journal in May that Nason was essentially a consultant who he called in if he needed help with statistics or with briefings for city committees. After being asked about Nason responding to an early morning call, MacMaster said the former chief had covered twice on an on-call basis from his home between the hours of 2-6 a.m.
Nason is earning reserve officer pay, $16.63 per hour without benefits, to consult with MacMaster and take “emergent calls” so other officers would not be over-worked.
“It might be that (Nason helps) the guys out on this for an hour or so,” MacMaster said. “I wouldn’t even say it’s four hours or so. It’s more (to aid) the transition, because of COVID-19 it wasn’t as fluid as it could be.”
Nason retired as police chief in April after more than 30 years on the force. In March, the Kennebec Journal reported that Nason would work with MacMaster through the transition.
Rudy said, according to the city charter, officers are not required to be appointed by the City Council, so there was no conflict with Nason serving as a reserve officer before his formal appointment.