KITTERY, Maine — More than 18 months after Eliot/Kittery Police Chief Theodor Short became the first chief in Maine to run two departments, a police “force multiplier” is under way, which Short says adds to the effectiveness of both departments and saves taxpayer money to boot.
Short said he has made clear to all officers in both departments that “if either needs assistance, just go. Don’t wait or ask for permission. Back each other up when you feel the call dictates that kind of response.
“The result is a better work environment, not an imaginary wall” between the two, he said.
Short said that since becoming interim chief in Kittery in December 2012, a post he assumed full-time the following May, he has been working to “stabilize” the police force in town. The month he came aboard, former police Chief Paul Callaghan resigned after a vote of no confidence was taken in his leadership.
“We have been working to build pride in the organization and pride in Kittery,” Short said. “And I think given conversations I’ve had with community members, we’ve achieved that. People speak highly of the department.”
He said he had assumed before taking the job in Kittery that the natural orientation of Eliot residents would be toward South Berwick, because the two towns share a school district.
“What I’ve found is that, absent the schools, most of what I see indicates strong ties between Kittery and Eliot,” Short said. “That surprised me. I didn’t anticipate that.”
Many police issues are similar, as well, he said. Both towns share traffic problems, for instance, on Route 1 in Kittery and Route 236 in Eliot. He said he recently found ties between the two communities in terms of heroin-abuse problems.
“A lot of police intelligence is related to heroin use” in both towns, he said. “I hear about it on just about a daily basis.”
On drug and other investigations, Short said, Kittery’s two detectives and Eliot’s detective often team up, “so we can have three detectives working on an incident at no additional cost,” he said. “We’ll see people committing crimes in Kittery that have Eliot ties and vice versa.”
The same is true of patrol work, he said. Kittery and Eliot officers routinely back each other up on calls “when they feel the incident would dictate that kind of response.”
On the midnight shift, for instance, there is only one Eliot officer on duty and two in Kittery. Having backup, while it happens “routinely” throughout the day, is often very beneficial during overnight hours, Short said.
And there is economy of scale that benefits taxpayers in both towns, he said. In the past, officers who needed backup might have to call in off-duty officers who are paid overtime.
“But the bigger benefit is the public safety response, because we can have more officers now in a shorter period of time,” he said.
He said that from an administration perspective, he is also reducing costs by purchasing such things as uniforms, bulletproof vests and other equipment for more officers. There are 19 officers in Kittery and eight in Eliot.
“It’s that constant search of looking where we can operate better at an administrative level in a shared position,” he said.
Short recently explored sharing a lieutenant between the two towns. He said because there are four officers new to policing in Eliot, he thought it better to have one supervisor full time in the department. Eliot has no sergeants and just one lieutenant. “But I still think it’s a viable option for the future,” he said.
Whether there is a full-scale consolidation of both departments will have to be answered by town officials in Eliot and Kittery.
“Towns want their own identity and part of that identity is their police department,” Short said. “I appreciate and understand that. And I think we’re in a good position right now.”