York County voters will choose among three candidates for sheriff in the June 10 primary: a former employee of the department, a local police chief and the current chief deputy of the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff oversees the county jail, patrol deputies serving the 14 county towns that have no police departments, and the transport of inmates to court.

The Democratic primary will decide who replaces retiring Sheriff Maurice Ouellette because there are no declared Republican candidates. None of the candidates has any prior political experience.

Paul Main is making his second run for the office. A sheriff’s deputy from 1980 to 1999 – with a three-year hiatus playing guitar in Nashville – Main said he is running in part to improve morale at the county jail.

Dana Lajoie is police chief in South Berwick, where he oversees eight officers. He says that despite his department’s small size, he has kept it current with modern communications and other technology.

William King Jr. was appointed acting chief deputy by Ouellette in 2010 and took over the job for good in 2013. Part of the command staff, he is as close to an incumbent as there is and has been the focus of opponents’ criticism.

King recently had to respond to an Atlanta television report from 2005 posted on social media by one of Main’s supporters. The report recounts how King, then a supervisor for the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, was suspended for more than a month for using his work-provided car for personal use and for not getting prior approval to teach a college course and to referee youth basketball games.

Lajoie and Main also criticized the current administration for high turnover at the jail, saying it stems from poor morale. They said the county’s need to declare staffing emergencies – where corrections officers can be ordered to work more than usually is allowed and on scheduled days off – shows poor management.

King responded saying turnover at the jail is a systemic problem because many of the people hired as corrections officers, which requires a rigorous vetting, leave when they are offered jobs as police officers in other departments. He agreed that compelling overtime to maintain minimum staffing levels at the jail does create stress for officers.

KING: REDUCE RECIDIVISM

King started his law enforcement career at the Portland Police Department in 1975 and was recruited about five years later by the Central Intelligence Agency as a polygraph expert. He then joined the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and later went to work for the inspector general identifying criminal activity in the Justice Department.

It was in that role, overseeing a multistate territory, that King was the target of an expose on local television for using his government-provided car to get to another job as a referee. He also did not get written approval for that job and for teaching law enforcement at a local university.

King issued a statement recently conceding that he violated those Justice Department policies. He said that afterward, he was transferred to a post in New York City with the same pay grade. He retired there in 2008.

King has become a leading voice in the effort to stop some of the telephone scams that have bilked elderly victims out of thousands of dollars. He has testified before Congress and spoke at a symposium on the topic held in Jamaica, where many of the fraudulent phone calls originate.

King says he would work to reduce recidivism by creating a volunteer “success committee” in each community in the county, with officers, clergy, educators and others who can serve as a support network for inmates when they get out.

“The only way you really impact the crime rate is rehabilitation or you lock up people until they age out of crime,” he said.

One strategy he supports to bolster jail staffing levels is working with area schools to train and enlist teachers as reserve corrections officers, because they have transferable skills and can be available during the summer.

MAIN: ADDRESS STAFF SHORTAGE

Main has been out of law enforcement for many years but he drew 6,829 votes in the 2010 primary against Ouellette, or 47 percent, in a two-way race.

Main says he maintains contacts with workers at the jail and on patrol.

“The morale in that department is terrible,” he said, citing high turnover despite good wages and benefits. “It’s not the salary – perhaps it’s the poor administration.”

Main criticized jail administrators for going on vacations and attending a conference while corrections officers were being forced to work long hours. He said the administrative staff should be willing to take shifts inside the jail to reduce the burden on the corrections officers.

“A declaration of a (staffing) emergency as far as I’m concerned is a self-declaration of poor management. … It’s a safety issue,” he said.

Main said he would address staffing shortages by spending more time in the jail, trying to improve morale so people wouldn’t leave. He also advocates aggressive recruitment at all of the state’s law enforcement programs and those in New Hampshire.

Main said he also would institute a reserve corrections officer program.

Main said the sheriff’s department was run better and it was a better place to work when he worked there.

“When I worked under (Sheriff) Wes Phinney, it was a professional atmosphere, but it was also family,” he said.

Main said he would like to see more drug treatment, vocational training and education offered at the jail to help people curb the behavior that got them arrested.

He supports segregating people with mental health issues so they are not victimized in jail, and working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Maine to improve services.

LAJOIE: improve staff morale

Lajoie has been the police chief in South Berwick since 1986, when he became the youngest police chief in the state. From 1996 to 1998, he was chief for the South Berwick and Berwick police departments, until the latter opted to hire its own chief.

Asked about his accomplishments over 33 years with the South Berwick police, Lajoie cites two recent lists by outside groups. Bloomberg Businessweek rated South Berwick the best small community in Maine to raise children for 2013. Safe Essentials ranked South Berwick the third safest town in Maine.

Lajoie’s department is relatively small, with nine full-time officers, but still handles 16,000 to 18,000 calls for service, half of what the county handles covering 14 towns with 24 deputies, he said.

He said his department’s clearance rate, the percentage of reported crimes that it solves with an arrest, is one of the best in the county.

Lajoie says keeping current with technological advancement and using data-driven policing strategies are essential to good police work. He touted his town’s state-of-the-art emergency dispatch center as an example.

Lajoie said morale problems in the sheriff’s department are hurting its effectiveness and leading to excessive overtime.

“People are walking off the job without a job to go to, filing grievances. They don’t feel a level of support from management,” he said.

Lajoie highlights as one of his strengths his interaction with co-workers and the public, skills he said would serve him well as sheriff.

“It’s a different assignment but the skills of managing people, understanding people, are the same,” he said.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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Twitter: @Mainehenchman