With jurisdiction across the county, the long brown-clad arm of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office provides primary law enforcement coverage to 15 of the county’s towns and supplemental coverage to the four towns with municipal police departments.
The first sheriff took office in 1760, largely assigned to enforce court matters and keep the jail, according to current Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett.
“The [LCSO] is probably the oldest law enforcement office in Maine,” he said.
Since the eighteenth century, the task of the sheriff’s office has moved somewhat away from its courts and corrections beginnings to include what Brackett called “rural patrol,” a task undertaken by the LCSO’s patrol division.
Under a lieutenant, four patrol sergeants – shift supervisors – work with two to three deputies on given a shift to cover different sections of the county.
“The deputies are assigned to a particular area, the sergeant floats around and provide backup assistance and any supervisory assistance that they need,” Brackett said.
Describing the patrol division as the LCSO’s “first response unit,” Brackett said the patrol deputies respond to just about every law enforcement call the office receives, seeing everything from a cat stuck in a cellar drain to child abuse investigations and dealing with death scenes.
“They’re the first ones to go along with other first response units around the county,” he said.
For the purposes of patrol, the county is usually divided into three sections: “north” includes Whitefield, Somerville, and parts of Jefferson, Alna, and Dresden, while the remaining part of the county is divided into “east” and “west” by the Damariscotta River, Brackett said.
“That helps us reduce our response time if we’re able to keep someone in the area,” but deputies move back and forth to support each other and other police departments depending on the seriousness of calls, he said.
The amount of coverage by LCSO does ebb and flow throughout the day based on studies of call volumes, Brackett said.
“That’s the big reason we have take-home cars, so if something happens, we can call deputies [at home] so they can jump in their car and be close,” he said.
One of the big draws on the patrol division is traffic complaints and the volume of accidents around the country, Brackett said, adding that he could easily have one or two deputies assigned just to traffic enforcement.
“Given our call volume, we focus on it as best we can and will continue to do that when our resources are free and not tied up with other complaints and calls for service,” Brackett said. “The more we’re tied up on those criminal and civil complaints, the less time we’re going to have for traffic.”
Part of the patrol division’s task is performing shellfish enforcement under contract for Bremen, Bristol, and South Bristol. Three patrol deputies have specialized training from the Department of Marine Resources and the U.S. Coast Guard to assist in those duties, Brackett said.
“It’s an additional service that we provide above and beyond the county budget. Those contracts are reimbursed 100 percent by the towns that participate,” he said.
Brackett said the LCSO is always looking at ways to work with municipalities to provide law enforcement services in a proactive manner.
“I can’t stress enough how fortunate we are and how well we work together. We really depend on them, our other police departments,” he said.
The municipal police departments provide mutual aid to the LCSO when needed, Brackett said. “We’d be lost without that.”
The reality of tough financial times is that some residents look to the LCSO to fill gaps in local law enforcement – something brought up in discussions about both proposed and realized reductions to the police forces in Waldoboro, Wiscasset, and Damariscotta this past year – but the deputies are often extremely busy trying to do what they are already tasked with doing, Brackett said.
“We want to work closely with our municipalities to provide that service, but at some point, it creates challenges for us, challenges that over time are going to cost money,” Brackett said.
“We become strapped, people have to wait for services and start to suffer,” he said.
Those are impacts that people will need to decide are either acceptable or unacceptable, Brackett said.
“I would love to have ten more deputies, but I know that there’s just no way to do it,” he said.
Still, the larger size of the LCSO allows deputies to specialize more in their training, which can be used to assist the municipal departments, Brackett said.
The LCSO has canine units, accident reconstructions, a drug recognition expert, and deputies trained on using forensic mapping equipment to do scaled diagrams of crime scenes and accidents, Brackett said.
Specialized training helps the LCSO to do as good a job as it can, something the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and the county budget committee have traditionally supported, Brackett said.
Case preparation is also a big part of what the LCSO does, with deputies spending almost the same amount of time on preparing for a case as they do at the crime scene, Brackett said.
“The paper that goes with the actual action is significant and it’s a big part of what we do. It’s a huge part of what we do that people don’t usually see,” he said.
The sheriff’s office has a good, solid reputation with the district attorney’s office and the Office of the Attorney General in regard to case preparation and quality of work, “which has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the staff we have here,” Brackett said.
Seeing a deputy typing on the computer in their cruiser is seeing the deputy trying to keep up with the paperwork for the volume of calls they have received that particular day, Brackett said.
“We try to take as many steps as we can to keep the deputies, especially our first response units, out on the road rather than sitting in here doing the paperwork that’s required,” he said.
The LCSO’s Criminal Investigation Division, which does a lot of the case preparation, consists of two sergeants – one under contract to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency – and three detectives under a lieutenant.
“Our Criminal Investigation Division, our detectives, do the majority of all serious criminal investigations,” including child sex abuse cases, drug cases, and more detailed property crimes which take most of the CID’s time, Brackett said.
The overwhelming majority of the cases also involve some sort of substance, whether alcohol or drugs, he said.
“Our resources are tapped to the point that I feel like we’re barely keeping up with these [drug and alcohol] cases. I don’t mean that to say that Lincoln County has that any worse than any other part of the state … but we do have an issue like other parts of the state and that’s one of the areas that are challenging for us,” Brackett said.
The drug cases run the gambit from marijuana to heroin, some cocaine, and what Brackett called a “pretty serious concern” – the abuse of prescription medications.
Drug abusers do not follow geographic boundaries, causing investigators and deputies to sometimes spend time following up in areas outside the county, Brackett said.
“You kind of have to go where the criminal element takes us,” he said.
Along those lines, the LCSO works closely with other law enforcement agencies across the state, but information sharing between agencies is a statewide challenge, Brackett said.
“Although it’s better than it used to be, it’s still one of those areas that the state could use improvement on,” he said.
Record systems vary among departments, and instant access to detailed records from across the state is somewhat of a fantasy.
“We’re fortunate that every law enforcement agency in Lincoln County, at least the ones that live here … all share a records management system,” he said.
Beyond records management, much of what the LCSO does has a technological or social media connection, Brackett said.
Some of the detectives have specialized training in accessing text messages on cell phones and pulling other items of evidentiary value from pieces of technology and the web.
“We live in a technological age and it’s really changing the way we do business to some extent,” he said.
It is a challenge for the LCSO to keep pace with the changes in technology, and though larger than municipal police departments, the sheriff’s office is still limited in the amount of resources it can use for training and purchasing specialized equipment, Brackett said.
“We’ve taken some steps to get some intermediate training, beyond the basic steps, to help us facilitate the process to some extent,” he said. “It’s about as far as we can go with the resources that we have.”