Hallowell should consider adopting rules to guard against inappropriate relationships between supervisors and staff, the mayor says, following recent revelations that Police Chief Eric Nason started a sexual relationship with a female officer last year.

Even though Nason did not violate municipal policy explicitly, the city has felt the consequences of that decision. Last June, that officer accused Nason of sexually assaulting her, setting off a four-month Maine State Police investigation that was completed in October with no charges filed against the chief.

On June 14, the Kennebec Journal first reported the case, finding experts who also questioned the city’s response to the allegations and the fact that Nason was allowed to continue to supervise the officer even after city leaders learned about the situation. Through attorneys, both the officer and Nason admitted they had a sexual relationship before the incident. Nason says the June incident was consensual sex, while the officer says she was too drunk to consent.

Disclosure of the relationship and allegations highlights how Hallowell is one of many police departments statewide that doesn’t prohibit or regulate relationships between supervisors and subordinates.

Mayor Mark Walker said he’d be open to a change in policy and that the City Council’s Personnel Committee should look into updating rules.

“I hate to sound reactive, but it might have been time to look at the personnel policy — period,” Walker said.

Among police agencies in Maine, fraternization policies are uneven and rare, largely because they’re developed on a case-by-case basis. While the Maine State Police and departments in Augusta, Waterville and many smaller cities and towns don’t specifically address fraternization, sheriffs’ offices and the Portland Police Department do.

Experts say such a policy is a way to keep personal business from harming the workplace. Policies addressing fraternization are common in many workplaces – public and private. Many of them at least designate intermediaries to deal with subordinates involved with a higher-up. All of that works to avoid appearances of favoritism.

That’s especially important in a police setting, said Lou Reiter, a Georgia police consultant who is also a retired Los Angeles deputy police chief.

When others in the department know an officer and chief are in a relationship without proper controls, Reiter said, others can question whether they’re being treated equally.

“They’ll always use the fact that she’s going to bed with the chief,” Reiter said. “Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter. It’s the perception.”

ON-THE-JOB ISSUES

Lack of attention to the issue isn’t unique to Maine.

In 2010, Reiter conducted a survey on such polices for the Legal and Liability Risk Management Institute, a national group that trains law enforcement officials. He polled 2,700 members and found that while 71 percent of respondents said all agencies should have policies prohibiting both nepotism and fraternization, only 40 percent actually had them. Of those with policies, just 42 percent said they prohibited dating between employees. Reiter said that number is probably lower in reality.

Reiter said it isn’t possible — or wise — to prohibit all relationships between police officials. Rather, disclosure of relationships should be followed by proper controls to keep couples as separate as possible in the workplace, especially supervisors and subordinates.

The Maine Municipal Association offers counsel to cities and towns on a number of issues, including sexual harassment, but doesn’t issue recommended policies on fraternization. The Maine Chiefs of Police Association doesn’t, either.

“We haven’t done it basically because each department knows their own issues and should be able to do a policy on their own,” said Robert Schwartz, executive director of the chiefs association.

In Portland, for example, Chief Michael Sauschuck is married to Mary Sauschuck, a department detective. Vern Malloch, the assistant police chief, said he, not the chief, handles the detective’s evaluations.

Augusta Deputy Police Chief Jared Mills said in his 16 years at the department, he hasn’t seen problems involving employee relationships.

However, there is one married couple in the department now, Anthony and Laura Drouin, both evening patrol officers. So if one is promoted and one isn’t, Augusta could face a situation similar Sauschuck’s in Portland.

Mills said while the department doesn’t strictly addressfraternization, it would treat many supervisor-subordinate relationships as inappropriate under a general policy that prohibits “conduct unbecoming of an officer.” Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey said his department would take the same approach.

Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty, also president of the Maine Sheriffs Association, said his office and most others in Maine prohibit supervisors from serving on the same shifts as employees they’re dating, and that every police agency should have policies aimed at fraternization.

Of Hallowell’s Nason case, Liberty said: “If a policy was in place, that may not have happened.”

SMALL DEPARTMENTS AFFECTED MOST

Hallowell’s police department prohibits relationships of “immoral, improper, disorderly or intemperate” conduct that reflect “discredit upon the employee, upon fellow employees or upon the agency” but doesn’t address sexual relationships between officers, or between supervisors and their staffers.

It’s up to City Manager Michael Starn to determine whether Nason, 48, broke any rules when he began a relationship with the 22-year-old female officer. But Starn didn’t take disciplinary action after the officer accused the chief of sexually assaulting her while she was drunk last June. Starn said he didn’t review the police-specific rules before deciding not to discipline Nason, sticking to citywide guidelines, where nothing explicitly prohibits his conduct.

But even if departments can handle fraternization under general policies, Reiter said it’s vital to establish controls. That can be more important in small departments such as Hallowell’s, which typically has just five full-time employees.

For his part, Curtis Lunt, Monmouth’s town manager, said it hadn’t occurred to him before a conversation with a reporter that his police department might need to address fraternization. Now, though, he’d like to see a draft policy.

“They could make the best employees until they fall out of love,” he said. “And then they’re worst enemies.”