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

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

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

Staff photo by David Leaming

“All those voices I heard, did they actually vote in June?” Walton said.

Walton said that between Clinton’s geography — tucked in the northeast corner of 951-square mile Kennebec County — and its aging demographic, it’d be foolish to dissolve a local police force.

“From personal experience, I’ve waited for state police or sheriff’s department for 30 to 45 minutes,” Walton said.

Last winter, he said, a car accident left a vehicle partly blocking the road near his home during low visibility.

“I almost hit it so I called it in,” he said. “The car was half in the road and half in the ditch.”

The sheriff’s department couldn’t respond right away, and it was more than 30 minutes before the car was towed out, he said. 

In addition, Walton said the aging Clinton population raises risks from burglary and other crimes.

“When we’re aging, we get aches and pains, and to help those (problems), we get pills,” he said. “We’re an aging community, which makes us a target.”

According to the 2010 census, 12 percent of Clinton’s population, or 424 people, were more than 65 years old. Another 148 residents, or 4 percent of the population, are between 50 and 64 years old. The town’s population is just more than 3,400.

‘It’s an uphill battle’

One of the most common complaints by residents has been about the conduct of police officers. Yet, the majority of complaints have been about those who are no longer with the department. Some date back four or five years.

“The way I’ve been treated in the past year — I’ve never been treated like this,” resident Debbie Henry said at the second public hearing, on July 9.

Resident Barbara Richards had a similar complaint, saying the town “has had enough of poor police officers who are not qualified.”

“Some of the officers in the past, folks may have not been used to that type of policing,” said Charles Theobald, a full-time officer in Clinton who was hired in early June. “But what the officers may not have understood is that this is a small town, everyone knows everyone.”

Theobald, 31, is the only full-time officer working under Johnson. There are also six part-time reserve officers, including one who is a full-time officer in Oakland. Theobald said the issues the department face are difficult because of the negative perception some residents have toward the department.

“It’s an uphill battle,” he said. “I’m the type of person that likes to get out in the community. I think that will help the image of the police department.

“It’s tough, but we have a job to do and we may need to write someone a ticket even though we know the person,” Theobald said. “If you’re able to show us respect, you’ll get the same respect 10-fold.”

Theobald began police work when in college at the University of New England in Biddeford. During his time there, he interned with the Maine Warden Service and worked part-time patrol in Wells.

“I’ve been hooked from there,” Theobald said. “I enjoy working with the communities, doing my part in the community.”

After graduating in 2005, Theobald was offered a full-time position with the Augusta Police Department, but after a couple months he left because he felt the fit was wrong. Since 2006, Theobald worked part time for Winslow’s Police Department before he joined Clinton’s staff earlier this year.

He said the response of residents so far has been “pretty positive,” despite the uneasiness surrounding the department.

“They’re glad to see somebody new on full time. Once folks get to know me a bit, they’ll open up and chat some more.”

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239

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