STATEWIDE — Maine has a unique system to evaluate law enforcement officers statewide for alleged misconduct.
“Other states, quite frankly, are so envious of what we are able to do. You know, to be able to decertify someone in our state for conduct, police and corrections officers, for doing things that most states can’t touch them. And we can do that and that’s really important,” said Rick Desjardins, director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.
In Maine, the academy’s board of trustees issues law enforcement certifications for 116 departments, including the Railroad Police, Maine State Police, game wardens, the Marine Patrol, jails and prisons, and all the police and sheriffs departments in between.
“There is a requirement in Maine that if a police chief is aware that an officer is engaged in criminal conduct, we’re required to report that to the board of trustees at the academy,” said Chief Jim Willis of the Mount Desert and Bar Harbor police departments.
Since 2015, 207 officers have been or are being investigated for everything from excessive force to rape to operating under the influence, according to data provided by the academy.
Desjardins said the board will soon review if Maine Game Warden Jeremy Judd will remain certified, and a union representative for Millinocket police officers said they recently asked for a review of Police Chief Craig Worster.
A former Mount Desert police officer permanently voluntarily surrendered his law enforcement certificate in May 2019. His alleged crime was rape, but District Attorney Matt Foster said no charges were ever filed against him in Hancock County.
“Conduct doesn’t always mean that there was a companion criminal case,” Willis said. “It doesn’t mean that everybody knew about it. It doesn’t mean that it happened last week or last year. It’s when a police chief finds out about it, we’re required to report that.”
He said in his 15 years as a police chief, he’s only had three officers go before the board for review. Willis added there is no double standard, but if no charges are filed or if the person resigns, it becomes a privacy issue.
“In some cases, it is just a personnel matter,” Willis said, referring to why he couldn’t answer specific questions about the officer who gave up his certification.
“I can think of instances were the conduct has happened in other jurisdictions, maybe out of state,” he added. “Sometimes there may be crimes that are involving victims that may or may not want to file a complaint. But regardless of all of that, if I know about the conduct I have to report it and I do.”
The data shows nearly 50 of the reviews were for failing to complete mandatory training, or for part-time officers working too many hours. In addition, 28 OUIs were reported, along with 16 sex crimes covering rape, sexual touching and possession of child porn. Assaults, criminal threatening and excessive force tallied 25.
Once a report is submitted, a complaint committee investigates and they make a recommendation to the full board of directors at the criminal justice academy who are the final authority on what happens.
“Things can be suspended, there are probations, there are complete decertifications for life. There is a variety of approaches that they take,” Willis said.