Lincoln County’s sheriff and county commissioner for District 2 are both Democrats, both long-serving county officials, and both unopposed in their re-election bids this year.
Brackett has 27 years experience in law enforcement, including working for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office from 1988 to 1998 and then as police chief for Damariscotta until he started as sheriff in 2003.
In his nearly 12 years as sheriff, Brackett said technology is one area which has changed significantly and has required changes in not only the equipment the LCSO uses but the manner in which they investigate crime.
The prevalence of cell phones and use of social media have both grown, which has made it easier both for the reporting of crime and for the sheriff’s office to communicate with the public, Brackett said.
The sheriff’s office has also made use of global positioning equipment, helping tracking its vehicles, crime events around the county, and even mapping out crime scenes and accidents to scale.
As the LCSO’s use of technology changes, Brackett said the staff has spent a lot of time training, which is a “big emphasis” of his.
“I think we’ve adapted as quickly as we can, given our resources,” Brackett said.
Careful to make clear it is not a dramatic change, Brackett said he has seen a gradual increase the amount of domestic violence and other violent crime over the last 12 years.
The laws have become more stringent, Brackett said, and the media and advocacy groups like New Hope for Women have helped heighten awareness which may account for an increased number of calls for domestic violence.
“What worries me is that, and maybe it’s just looking at our number of aggravated assaults, serious cases involving firearms and weapons, and threats of violence seem to be increasing as well,” Brackett said. “It may be for some of the same reasons; people are reporting them more than they used to.”
Elder crimes have also been on the rise, as cyber criminals innovate and figure out new ways to prey on targets they feel are more financially stable and have more assets, Brackett said.
“It’s a challenge for us, it’s something we’ll do more and more of in the future as our population continues to change and age,” he said.
To help combat crime in general, Brackett has an eye on programs which help youth develop positive relationships with law enforcement early on, and advocating for early childhood education as a way to reduce the likelihood program participants will commit crimes in the future.
“I’m a big advocate for doing more early,” Brackett said. “We’re reactive way too many times as law enforcement, so the more proactive we can be I think the more effective we’re going to be.”
Brackett used staffing to illustrate his point that avenues other than simply putting more deputies on the road are needed.
When he started with the LCSO in 1988, Brackett said there was a lieutenant, a sergeant, and four deputies in the patrol division.
According to Brackett, the county’s population has not changed significantly since then but the frequency and severity of crime, as well as the use of drugs, have continued to increase.
“Today I have 15 people in my patrol division alone, a lieutenant, four sergeants, and 10 patrolman, and I haven’t reduced crime. We’re trying to keep pace with it,” Brackett said. “Just throwing police officers at the problem … doesn’t solve the problem. We’re a necessary part of the equation I believe, but it doesn’t solve the problem.”
Brackett also plans to continue using alternative sentencing programs and post-release programs to help offenders get their lives back on track.
“I have and will continue to advocate for alternatives to incarceration, ways that we can reduce recidivism rates, keep people from coming into our facilities,” Brackett said.
“Just like throwing police officers at a problem doesn’t seem to solve the problem over the years, just locking people up and throwing away the key doesn’t make them any less likely to commit a crime when they come out, in most cases,” he said.
Though Brackett no longer oversees the jail, he is a member of the Lincoln and Sagadahoc Multicounty Jail Authority and continues to be involved with that side of corrections both locally and on a state level.
The county needs to stay at the table and make the consolidated county corrections system work, Brackett said.
“One of the most positive things, in my opinion, that’s come out of it is we’ve been able to cap property taxes at the 2008 levels on jail spending,” Brackett said.
However, Brackett said, “In my opinion we need to hold the state accountable – and they haven’t been very accountable so far – in paying their fair share under the statute of correctional services moving forward. I want to do everything I can do to make sure that happens.”
Blodgett is a former state legislator and a former Waldoboro selectman, and also taught school for about 35 years, among other accomplishments.
Blodgett said county corrections is probably the biggest issue facing Lincoln County government these days, and more specifically, the problem is getting the state funding flowing to cover the costs of operation.
With the counties unable to raise funds for corrections above a state-set limit, the state needs to fulfill its promise to fill in the necessary funding above that cap, Blodgett said, instead of telling the Board of Corrections how much funding it will get to run the jails.
“The state needs to fund what is necessary to comply with the law,” Blodgett said.
Jails cannot cut back on the number of inmates it will take for a certain part of the year to reduce its budget needs, Blodgett said. “You need to have consistent staffing, and that’s the problem with this,” he said.
“The costs in ’07 are not the costs in 2014, or ’15, or ’16. It goes up. The state does contribute some more money, but it has been a constant battle to get the state to contribute, to meet the needs,” Blodgett said.
Blodgett intends to keep after the state regarding the county corrections issue during his next term.
“We [county commissioners] spend time in Augusta when the legislature is in session, trying to lobby,” and discussing these issues with the legislators, Blodgett said.
New this year at the county level is the county’s contract with municipalities to provide animal control services, which Blodgett said he was in favor of starting.
Selectmen from some of the county’s towns had approached the commissioners about this service due to the difficulty and cost of maintaining their own animal control officers, Blodgett said.
“By the time they got someone equipped and trained, they would probably have $1,000 or more invested, and all too often the animal control officer would last maybe three months. They could have several animal control officers in a year’s time. They came and went,” Blodgett said.
Under the new program, the towns contract with the county and are billed an hourly rate for a county ACO to provide the services as needed, Blodgett said.
Waldoboro, Damariscotta, Bremen, Bristol, Jefferson, and Whitefield are currently participating, and those towns are served by three county ACOs.
“It’s about half the county’s population,” Blodgett said.
Another effort Blodgett aims to continue supporting is a food composting program through Lincoln County Recycling. The food composting program was piloted in Wiscasset in 2013.
“It’s going into a full-time [program], but we haven’t got collection points in all of the towns yet,” Blodgett. “There are some commercial restaurants that would like to do this, have indicated they are interested, and we’re about ready to accept that kind of waste.”