PEAKS ISLAND — Islanders reacted negatively to a city proposal that would replace an island police officer position with a full-time firefighter/emergency medical technician.

Though Peaks Island would still have one full-time police officer on duty at all times, a second 24/7 position would be filled by a firefighter.

That staffing arrangement raised concerns about what might happen to the sole police officer if a violent situation breaks out on the island.

“Everyone wants to keep the status quo. That was the message we got tonight,” said Thomas Bohan, a member of the Peaks Island Council, which hosted the meeting at the island community center. “I think many of the residents are wedded to the status quo.”

Wednesday night’s meeting was held to gauge public opinion before the Peaks Island Council makes a recommendation to the city. More than 40 residents attended. The Peaks Island Council is an advisory board and can only make recommendations to the Portland City Council.

City Manager Joe Gray’s budget recommends replacing four police officers – one on duty at any one time — with firefighters who now are assigned to the city’s fireboat.

Fire Chief Fred Lamontagne said that means those firefighters would be reassigned to the Peaks Island public safety building, offering islanders one trained firefighter with medical skills ranging from EMT to paramedic for each shift.

“This makes very little sense to me,” said Mark Shane, an island resident. Shane said he saw no need to pull a firefighter off the city’s fireboat to work on the island. “This is the biggest bunch of bull the city has come up with yet … The big difference is they don’t carry a gun. “

Shane and others say they are concerned because the police officers assigned to Peaks can back each other up if violence breaks out. A firefighter would not be able to assist in making an arrest.

The island already has a 14-member volunteer fire department, most of whom have some EMT training.

Portland Police Department Capt. Vern Malloch assured islanders that his department would monitor and possibly increase police staffing on the island if needed.

“Having one police officer on the island is not cast in stone. If we can anticipate problems then we will staff accordingly,” Malloch said.

For instance, Peaks Island Reggae Sundays, which draw large crowds of people to the island during the summer, might require more police staffing than usual, Malloch said.

Peaks’ population swells to 2,000 people during the summer — it has about 900 year-round residents.

“Admittedly, it is not the best-case scenario, but we don’t feel like this will endanger anyone on the island,” Malloch said.

Mike Sylvester, an island resident, disagreed. He wanted to know how one officer could respond to a domestic violence situation.

“This is not a solution,” he said. “I’m scared.”

Malloch said Portland police only had to use force once in 175 police calls last year on Peaks.

Rob Tiffany, a member of the Peaks Island Council, spoke in support of the city proposal. .

“This arrangement affords us a very good opportunity to regain our two-person (emergency) coverage on a 24-7 basis, 365 days a year. I think it’s an overall improvement,” Tiffany said.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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