Decades of Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office records were saved from water damage a few years ago when they were moved to the upper level of a storage barn near the law enforcement center.

Now they face a new threat: mice.

The rodents apparently are fond of chewing the old paper and using it to make nests, flagrantly disregarding a state law requiring that the records be preserved.

This week, volunteers and jail trustees are helping officials with the sheriff’s office move the records to a self-storage unit on Reed Street.

The county has agreed to pay the $1,200 annual cost of renting the space to preserve the records. The county already rents space for probate and deeds records.

Capt. Don Goulet, who is overseeing the project, said the records include large, bound volumes from the 1940s, inscribed with the name of each inmate who arrived at the old jail.

“We’re really good at saving things,” Goulet said.

The storage is for paperwork. Evidence related to cases is kept in a secure, mouse-free environment.

The records are rarely used.

Chief Deputy Kevin Joyce said several years ago an anxious woman was searching for a 20-year-old drunken driving arrest. She was applying to serve on a board of directors and her record suggested she’d assaulted an officer, though she hadn’t.

Joyce found the record — he was the one who had stopped her — and confirmed there was no assault.

In another case, someone wanted to review the case file from an accidental drowning, Goulet recalled. Stories had been whispered for years that it was more than an accident, and a relative wanted to view the file to know for sure.

Someone who is applying to be a citizen or seeking to join the military might need a copy of a police report, said BethAnne Poliquin, attorney for the Portland Police Department.

State law requires that some files, like complaints against officers, and homicide and accidental death records, be kept forever. Dispatch records and radio transmission logs must be kept for two years. Summons issued by animal control or shellfish officers must be kept for three years.

Arrest records and records of closed criminal cases must be preserved until the offender turns 80 — and has gone five years without committing a crime.

The relocation of the files gave the sheriff’s office a chance to sort through the volumes, and workers filled a trash bin with 3.9 tons of paper to be incinerated.

The York County Sheriff’s Office stores its records in its former jail, which is very secure, said Sheriff Maurice Ouellette. State police preserve records in buildings across the state, and in the state archives in Augusta.

Portland police have records stored at two off-site locations, but a renovation to the police station created storage space there.

The issue of records storage could go the way of the mimeograph. “For the last two years, all the records are electronic except for videotapes, which are on CDs,” said Cumberland County Manager Peter Crichton.

Digital records have the dual benefit of not taking up much space, and being much easier to search.

And the mice hate them.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: dhench@pressherald.com