BIDDEFORD — Biddeford and Saco are working toward an arrangement to man the Saco River with a civilian patroller.

Currently, as the result of an informal agreement dating back to the 1990s, the two cities’ police departments share patrol duties of the river.

But it’s an unstable solution, Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant explained Monday.

Since the individuals come from the cities’ police departments, they can at any time be assigned to what the public perceives as more important matters, said Casavant.

“(External) pressures dictate where those officers will go, so the river becomes secondary,” he said. “You only have a fixed number of officers.”

For example, when a few years ago the Biddeford City Council asked for an increase in police presence downtown, that came at the expense of removing a Biddeford police officer from the patrol boat, he said. Originally, the concept was to keep one officer from each department on the boat at all times, as it patrolled the waters during the summer months.

“We haven’t been able to dedicate someone to work with (Saco police on the patrol boat) for about three years now,” Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre said Monday.

However, both communities have continued to pay for gasoline and maintenance for the boat, which was donated to them by the state’s marine patrol department, said Beaupre.

Last week Casavant and Beaupre met with Saco Police Chief Brad Paul, Saco Mayor Don Pilon and members of both cities’ harbor commissions, and the group settled on an alternative solution: Hiring a civilian to patrol the river.

“It would make more sense and be more cost effective to have a civilian who would be on the river from, say, May 15 to Oct. 15,” said Casavant.

Both mayors also agree that with the current system not working, it wouldn’t be wise to abandon patrol efforts altogether.

“It’s like being on the road,” Pilon said Monday. “You have people that speed and create wakes on the river. If you’re out there fishing and somebody goes by and creates a wake, it’s not a safe environment, so that’s why you have to put a boat out there with somebody with some authority.”

Likewise, Casavant said there’s been “increasing activity” on the river over the last few years, “so there’s a need for a presence to monitor safety issues.”

Pilon clarified that the civilian patroller would not carry a firearm, but he or she would have the power to issue citations and make arrests.

There would likely be more than one person hired for the position, too, said Pilon, so that somebody’s always available. They would answer to one of the cities’ police departments, he added.

Beaupre explained that the patroller’s authority would be similar in scope to a harbormaster’s, being able to enforce marine laws only. Instead of the extensive training police officers receive, the patroller would undergo training specific to marine laws, he said.

Beaupre said he’s on board with the idea because his department, as well as the Saco Police Department, would no longer have to worry about staffing the patrol boat.

“It’s a question of having manpower to take care of our needs within the community, to attack issues dealing with crime, rather than going up and down the Saco River enforcing wake violations or (issuing citations) for oversized fish or not wearing life preservers,” he said.

Casavant estimates the new position would draw up to $15,000 out of each city’s budget, and when he brought the idea to the Biddeford City Council last week, there was no opposition. Pilon said he’ll hear from the Saco City Council on the matter in early May.

“We’re both responsible. We share the river,” said Pilon. “So we feel responsible for being out there and showing the public that water safety is important.”

“It’s a simple, common-sense measure to deal with issues on the river,” said Casavant.

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]

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