WISCASSET — After briefly dipping down to just one full time employee on the force, the Wiscasset Police Department is looking to rebuild under the new leadership of Chief of Police Lawrence Hesseltine.

“The biggest challenge so far is staffing,” said Hesseltine. “Once we get full staffed that’s going to take a burden off my plate.”

Hessletine, Sgt. Craig Worster, part-time administrative assistant Nicole Viele and a handful of reserve officers are the entirety of the department.

When Worster joined the department two years ago, there were four full-time members of the force, but as officers retired, moved to larger departments with more opportunities or took up better paying jobs, the department slowly shrank from its already small number.

When former Chief Jeff Lange retired in July, Worster was left as the sole full-time employee of the department for a couple months.

“It was very difficult,” said Worster. “I found myself trying to juggle the responsibility of trying to be on the road and also the responsibility of running the department. To be perfectly honest, it was stressful.”

Work at the department backlogged, with some cases on his desk dating back three months. In addition, Worster was left alone with just a few reserve officers to handle the onslaught of traffic going up and down Route 1, which bottlenecks in Wiscasset’s seasonally busy downtown. According to the Maine Department of Transportation, that stretch of road saw an average of 19,530 cars per day in 2017.

The department relied on some help from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. “They’ve been very accommodating with us,” said Worster.

“It created some additional work for out staff, but we maintained our patrols in our regular patrol areas,” said Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Rand Maker.

Maker said that the fact that the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office is based in Wiscasset made it easier to pitch in when needed. It’s not uncommon for the sheriff’s office to pick up the slack for short-handed departments in the county, even as the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office itself is short two patrol officers out of of the 23 funded positions in the office.

“We try to help each other, and there are certainly times when the municipalities have stepped in and helped us, whether it’s backing are guys up on calls or stuff like that,” said Maker.

“We wouldn’t be able to sustain this long term,” said Maker. “But short term, it’s just the right thing to do.

That stressful period with just one full time officer ended on September 4, when Hesseltine started and doubled the department’s ranks.

HESSELTINE

Hesseltine became a law enforcement officer at just 20 years old.

“The reason I got into law enforcement is an act of compassion by a Maine State Trooper back when I was really young,” said Hesseltine.

Hesseltine recalls when he was in fifth grade, he was driving with his father home when a state trooper pulled them over. The trooper said the vehicle wasn’t safe to be on the road. Instead of having the vehicle towed, the trooper told Hesseltine’s father to drive the vehicle home immediately, and that if he saw the vehicle on the road again he would tow it. They proceeded to drive home without incident.

Later that night, however, the family learned that a relative was in the hospital. With no other options, the family piled back into the car despite the officer’s warnings and headed to another relative’s house, where they planned to borrow their car for the remainder of the journey.

“That same state trooper pulled us over,” recalled Hesseltine.

But again, instead of having the vehicle towed, the trooper heard the family out and let them complete their trip.

“The compassion that that state trooper showed my family is what gave me the desire to be a police officer.”

In his three-decade career, Hesseltine has worked as an officer in multiple municipalities, as a patrol administrator in Knox County, and as an officer with the Waldoboro Police Department for the past five years.

In addition to his law enforcement duties, Hesseltine has also been involved with Special Olympics Maine since he began his career in 1988.

“It’s a cause that I believe in,” said Hesseltine. “Once you meet the athletes and see the impact of what you do, how it impacts their lives, it keeps you coming back.”

In 2010, he launched the Torch Ride, a motorcycle ride that supports the Special Olympics. About 70-100 riders make the trip from Waldoboro to Belfast, later returning to Waldoboro for a big lobster bake and pig roast. The 9th Annual Torch Ride will take place on  Saturday.

REBUILDING THE DEPARTMENT

When Hesseltine started on Sept. 4, he was tasked with rebuilding the depleted department. In the coming weeks, he hopes to hire a school resource officer and a police officer as well as a couple more reserve officers, bringing the force in line with its staff count from two years ago. Like many small police departments, however, recruitment has been a challenge.

“I think Wiscasset is facing the same challenges that every other department in the state is facing, and that is finding quality candidates,” said Hesseltine. “It’s not like it was years ago where you’d have one position and you’d have 50 applicants for that one position.”

Lower pay, fewer resources and a perceived lack of job security are part of the reason it’s difficult to bring officers to Wiscasset, said Hesseltine. At a meeting earlier this year, former Police Chief Jeff Lange claimed that police department employees make 18 percent less than surrounding communities. The department also runs on single shifts, which can be discouraging to newer recruits who want to work with a partner as they learn the ropes.

“One of my goals in getting to full staff is to address some of those stability needs and letting them know Wiscasset PD is here to stay … and make Wiscasset a place where people want to work” said Hesseltine.

Wiscasset Selectman Robert Blagden said voters had made it clear at the annual town meeting that they intended to continue having their own police force, and he hoped that would give prospective officers a sense of job security as Hesseltine rebuilds the department.

Hesseltine remained hopeful that the empty positions would be filled soon, noting that the department has already received some applications and will begin interviewing next week.

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