SOUTH PORTLAND – The vendors at the Maine Chiefs of Police Association’s annual convention had the latest in police technology: shotgun-mounted Tasers, ultra-light bullet-proof vests, and high-definition shirt-front mini-cameras.

Then there was the more mundane, but still important, police gear: uniforms made from durable, easy-to-clean-fabric; large glow-sticks for directing traffic; even a textured waist belt worn over the shirt and under slacks to keep an officers’ shirttails tucked and looking sharp.

Naldo Gagnon, chief deputy for the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, checked out a press to keep the campaign-style chief’s hat he wears crisp and protected.

The convention gives chiefs and command staff from across the state a chance to check out the latest in police technology, attend training sessions and compare notes with colleagues.

“Just the exchange of ideas from other chiefs and sheriffs is always a good thing,” Gagnon said.

Training included a presentation by Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, on how police can recognize various medications and identify fraudulent prescriptions.

Prescription drug diversion has become a major issue for police across the state, with many saying it is behind a significant percentage of property crimes.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office also gave a presentation, on identifying and responding to gang activity.

Robert Schwartz, executive director of the chiefs association, said many communities outside of the state’s urban areas may not see much gang activity, but it’s important that they be able to recognize it, and keep it from becoming a serious problem.

Noel March, U.S. marshal for Maine, said the annual gathering is an important opportunity for chiefs to compare notes and stay current.

“Crime in Portland looks very different than crime in Presque Isle, but the strategies and tactics are often very much the same,” he said.

Networking is constant. Gagnon, who came to Cumberland County after serving as police chief in Presque Isle for 14 years, could barely make it into the vendor hall before being engaged by a steady stream of fellow executives.

Michael Gahagan, police chief in the Aroostook County town of Caribou, was one of them.

Gahagan said the national economy may be recovering, but Maine is at the tail end of that process, and Aroostook County is at the tail end of the tail. “I think we’re maybe one year away. We’re still fighting to fund our programs,” Gahagan said. “This is the first year I’ve asked prices” while browsing at the convention.

Kittery Police Chief Ed Strong was impressed by the automatic license plate reader. The device enables officers to instantly check passing license plates against a database. Strong said it could be a boon to his officers who scour retail outlets’ parking lots for vehicles that may be connected with thefts.

Strong jokingly held up a pair of pink handcuffs, suggesting they were just what a colleague needed. The salesman explained later that the color-coded handcuffs, which also come in orange and yellow, can help a department keep track of its hardware when it works with other agencies, and can designate particularly dangerous suspects.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce made his way through the vendors, trying to stay abreast of the latest in radio and camera clarity.

A salesman showed off the high-quality video taken by a small camera that clips to the front of an officer’s shirt.

Joyce asked about the cameras being worn by tactical teams conducting searches, since defendants sometimes challenge the police version of events in court. The cameras cost $800. “If it saves you a lawsuit, it’s money well spent,” he said.

There is a “kid in a candy store” quality to the exercise. Everything looks so good, but municipal departments still have tight budgets.

Joyce said he would love to buy another thermal imaging camera. The department has one, and its ability to “see” a person’s heat signature in the dark has helped catch suspects and, once, find a suicidal women who was hiding in the woods.

But he has to wait, because the department’s equipment budget is being stretched to outfit a car for an additional deputy’s position.

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

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