GRAY — Cumberland County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Thompson had been on duty for a whole 25 minutes Wednesday, his first day as deputy for the town of Gray, when he made a pinch: a driver with a suspended license who was wanted on warrants and made the poor choice of driving without a seat belt.

“Right from the beginning I made an arrest, which is a great way to justify my existence,” he said.

Thompson, working under a contract between the town and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, is the first law enforcement dedicated to serving Gray since the last contract expired 19 years ago.

In June, town voters approved hiring a deputy for 40 hours per week. Town councilors voted 4-0 Tuesday night to approve the contract, which for a full year would cost $145,000 and include salary, equipment, insurance and other costs.

“The concern is about the growth of Gray and all the traffic and our exposure to different levels of crime that this little agricultural community didn’t see 50 years ago,” said Town Councilor Richard Barter.

The results of the June vote actually came as a bit of a surprise, after years of unsuccessful attempts to boost police coverage in Gray.

For years, many residents argued that having the Maine State Police barracks on Route 26 and the town’s share of the rural patrol by the sheriff’s office were enough, without any spending for dedicated police.

Gray, with a population of 7,761, was the largest town in Maine without a police department or any other dedicated police service.

Standish, with 9,874 residents, has a contract with the sheriff’s office to cover the town 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with five full-time deputies.

Gray will continue to have coverage from the deputy who also patrols New Gloucester, North Yarmouth and Pownal.

Thompson, who grew up in the Portland area, has worked for the sheriff’s office for the past three years, primarily as a contract deputy in Standish. Before that, he was an officer with the North Berwick Police Department. He turned 28 on Tuesday.

Sheriff Kevin Joyce said Thompson will have a mixed role in town. “I’m convinced Matt has the ability to use enforcement when necessary and do some problem-solving with people who have quality-of-life issues,” Joyce said.

That means, in addition to making traffic stops and arrests, Thompson will work on issues like dogs barking incessantly and the need for crosswalks.

In Standish, Thompson adjusted his schedule to tackle the problem of tractor-trailer trucks speeding through town at 4 a.m., Joyce said.

Thompson will have an office at town hall. Residents who need a deputy should call 911 in an emergency or 774-1444 for non-emergency matters.

The issue of paying for dedicated police coverage remains divisive in town. Some business owners declined to comment Wednesday on the politically touchy issue, with one noting that taking a position wouldn’t be good for business.

Terry Tarsetti, a resident who attended Tuesday’s meeting, supported the decision to hire a deputy. She wanted to make sure that Thompson would vary his shifts periodically so criminals wouldn’t learn his routine and exploit it.

Thompson will work four 10-hour shifts each week, with a variable schedule.

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

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