July 31, 2013

As Clinton Police Department debate continues, spate of vandalism shows where small-town cops come in

By Jesse Scardina jscardina@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

CLINTON — Earlier this month, a window was busted out at the American Legion post, swings were stolen from the elementary school playground and the scoreboard at Gordon Field was marked with dents and holes “similar to what a crowbar would leave,” according to police reports.

click image to enlarge

Police officer Charles Theobald recently was hired by the Clinton police department.

Staff photo by David Leaming

The vandalism during a three-day period — mixed in with other calls such as threatening, theft and noise complaints — are all examples of some of the calls for service residents have made from the police department in the last two weeks.

They’re also the type of calls that wouldn’t receive immediate attention without a local police department.

During three public hearings at selectmen’s meetings the last two months, residents have hashed out whether they want to keep the police department.

Town voters will reconsider the police budget in a referendum from noon to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 13, at the town office. Voters rejected the department’s last budget proposal at the annual Town Meeting on June 11.

If voters reject the budget, the department will continue to operate on the amount budgeted for last year and face a vote in June that could dissolve the department.

The proposed budget is $90 less than last year’s $198,044.

Depends on what’s going on

Clinton Police Chief Craig Johnson said Wednesday that the investigation into the vandalism reported July 21 through 23 is ongoing, but said there are persons of interest.

Violations of the curfew ordinance involving juveniles occurred around the same time as the vandalism, but he can’t confirm whether the two were connected.

According to Johnson, several young people were spotted breaking curfew. According to local ordinance,  anyone under 18 years old can’t wander or loiter in Clinton from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. unless accompanied by a parent or guardian or on an emergency errand.

The issues of vandalism or enforcing other town ordinances is the responsibility of local police departments. State police and sheriff’s departments do not enforce local ordinances, and while they’re patroling, calls for vandalism will be responded to “depending on what’s happening at that time,” according to Sheriff Randall Liberty of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.

“If nothing’s going on, we may work on vandalism,” Liberty said. “It’s around 12th or 13th on the (priority) list,” he said. He said high priority calls included violence against people, robberies and burglaries.

According to the annual Clinton town report, more than 150 thefts, 80 criminal mischief cases, 30 operating under the influence charges and 22 drug violations have been reported since 2010.

The scoreboard was valued at about $600, and the town is still deciding whether to repair it. Town Manager Warren Hatch said the decision to replace the missing swings is up to Fairfield-based School Administrative 49.

‘Mostly angry people show up’

Former planning board chair Michael Walton, 63, has lived in Clinton for 17 years, and believes it would be useless to have a curfew if there’s no one to police it.

“We have a curfew set up, but without a local police department, you might as well throw that out,” Walton said.

He also said he’s supported the police department in the past and said he will continue to put up signs and provide awareness for the upcoming vote.

“Right now, we don’t have enough signs to remind people to vote,” Walton said. “I’m worried about it enough. What happens, is it appears with low voter turnout, mostly angry people show up.”

Walton is hoping that while the support of the department was apparent at all three public meetings, he wonders if those same supporters will show up at the polls on Aug. 13.

(Continued on page 2)

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