By Donna M. Perry Sun Journal
LIVERMORE FALLS — A selectman would like to see police officers out in the community in a relaxed way so police get more acquainted with residents including children.
In September selectmen put a proposal for new playground equipment at the Recreation Field on hold until security measures are taken because someone vandalized an existing playground structure for young children.
“We need to figure out what to do with the children,” Selectman Sarah Flagg said Tuesday, Oct. 16, during a Board of Selectmen meeting.
There is not much in town for them to do, she said.
Police officers should be out there, maybe in more relaxed uniforms, she said.
“I would like the Police Department along with the select board to think of out of the box ideas that will help the people of the community who are in crisis without the use of violence. I understand (police) need to be protected but we need to look at why we have the issues we do,” Flagg said.
The board conversation began at the selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday when an invoice for new Tasers was reviewed. Police use Tasers to temporarily incapacitate someone, if necessary.
Police deal with people who may have mental illness, drug addictions, alcoholism, or are suicidal and out of control, Police Chief Ernest Steward Jr. who was not at the meeting, said Friday.
Police try to resolve criminal complaints without violence, he said.
New Tasers are being purchased to replace older models, Steward said.
“The gear the guys wear is used in steps,” he said. “Our job is to take control of the situation and bring peace back to the complaint we are on to prevent people from hurting themselves or someone else,” he said.
“Without the Tasers we would have to get more physical and options to handle a threat of imminent danger would be limited to a handgun,” he said. “Voluntary compliance is what we are looking for.”
Police try to find help for people in crisis and in danger of hurting themselves or others. They take people to St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston four or five times a month to get the help they need, he said.
With state resources limited, jails and police departments have basically become the mental health providers, he said. The department also has limited staffing and budget constraints.
Town Manager Stephen Gould told selectmen that the department used to have a community policing program.
He has seen officers get involved with kids.
Gould would like to see the day shift officers walk into the schools to talk to children, so they could get to know police better. Maybe even have lunch with them, he said.
Any meeting with children in a school setting would have to be done in another town. Livermore Falls closed its schools when Regional School Unit 36, which also served Livermore, consolidated with the Jay school system in 2011.
Earlier this year the department held Coffee with a Cop sessions at different locations to meet with residents to hear concerns. Those sessions are expected to continue, Gould said.
In the 1970s, kids and residents knew police and respected them but that is not always the case now, Gould said.