Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett is using emergency authority to appoint special deputies in case several regular deputies contract COVID-19, but so far the force remains healthy.
State law gives sheriffs the authority to appoint special deputies when the governor proclaims an emergency. Gov. Janet Mills proclaimed an emergency March 15.
In a phone interview Monday, April 6, Brackett said the special deputy process expands existing mutual aid protocol, which facilitates cooperation between agencies during major emergencies.
Brackett said he has never seen a state of emergency declared in his more than 30 years in law enforcement, including the last 17-plus as sheriff.
Brackett said the main difference between special deputization and standard mutual aid is that the current situation could call for longer terms of service, such as a few weeks or more.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office is fully staffed and everyone is healthy at the moment, but Brackett wants to have a contingency plan.
“We need to make sure we will have enough staff to cover regular patrol shifts. If I should have a bunch of my deputies fall ill, I need to keep operations running,” Brackett said.
According to Brackett, he has deputized three officers each from the Wiscasset and Boothbay Harbor police departments, including those towns’ police chiefs.
Brackett said by email that he has also sent out 16 commissions for deputies from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and expects to have several deputies from the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office sign up later this week.
Lincoln County is reciprocating: Brackett and 18 of his deputies at LCSO will be sworn in as deputies for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
In a March 25 letter to all Lincoln County towns, Brackett wrote that LCSO began restricting public access to its headquarters March 13. The agency continues to conduct day-to-day administrative business with the exception of nonemergency service of civil processes, like evictions and small claims, mostly because of changes to the court schedule.
All other services, including public safety services, “remain unchanged and at full capacity at this time,” according to the letter.
Brackett said his deputies are following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for physical distancing. They handle what they can by phone and meet people outside their homes whenever possible.
Lincoln County Communications dispatchers are asking screening questions to determine if a 911 caller or anyone else in a residence has COVID-19 symptoms.
Brackett said the agency has a full stock of personal protective equipment, including N95 masks, for use as needed.
The process of special deputization met with some resistance in Damariscotta, where the selectmen, Police Chief Jason Warlick, and Town Manager Matt Lutkus discussed the LCSO letter April 1.
Warlick, Lutkus, and the selectmen agreed that the priority of the Damariscotta Police Department should continue to be the protection of the town and its residents.
“The chief and I talked about this, and we’re hesitant to allow our officers to work extra duty at another agency at this point. I think we have enough exposure right now with the potential for them getting the virus,” Lutkus said.
“My number one job and why you have a police department is to make sure our citizens are taken care of, period,” Warlick said.
“That’s why I reached out to as many departments as possible,” Brackett said. “It looks like we’re going to have enough staff, even without Damariscotta’s help.”