FALMOUTH — The Police Department held a community forum at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary Jan. 14 to discuss whatever was on the public’s mind.
Chief Edward Tolan and Lt. John Kilbride spent two hours answering questions from a small handful of residents and the Rev. Nathan Ferrell of the Foreside Road church.
“The clergy felt it was important to have a place in the community for discussion,” Ferrell said, adding there wasn’t an expectation to talk specifically about national issues like the Ferguson, Missouri, riots, but “it’s important to have a chance to question and learn from each other.”
Tolan and Kilbride spoke about some of the challenges facing not just the Falmouth department, but police departments all across Maine. They cited increased drug use and property crimes, as well as a lack of qualified individuals interested in becoming police officers.
Tolan said police training is an evolved process, which includes an academy fitness test, an interview board, background checks, polygraph tests, and psychiatric and medical evaluations. From there, it’s 18 weeks of academy classes and physical training, then two months of patrol training, followed by an eight- to nine-month probationary period.
He also said there isn’t the same level of departmental loyalty as there used to be, and new candidates are put off by the long hours and low pay.
“It’s tough to hire good candidates,” Tolan said.
He also said the mental health system is “tragically broken” in Maine.
“We see it all the time, people crying out for assistance, and the treatment they receive is minimal,” Tolan said.
The chief said police will frequently take requiring mental health assistance to Maine Medical Center in Portland, but because of the large numbers of those in need, the individuals are often released “in hours.”
Kilbride said the department tries to connect with the community in several ways, including outreach to schools and teaching kids to avoid underage drinking and drug consumption.
Tolan added problems start when kids are young and consume alcohol and marijuana, which he said leads to more intense substances.
“No 19-year-old wakes up saying ‘I’m going to do heroin,'” Tolan said. “We have to be creative with the community to keep them smart.”
When asked about discipline levels and the use of force, Kilbride said the department spends a lot of time training in hand-to-hand combat and verbal tools to de-escalate situations. He said the department has had Tasers for five years, but they have only been used three times.
“You use the force necessary to affect the arrest,” Tolan said.