Deputy Mayor Luke Lanigan, shown here in a file photo, lashed out at the Sanford Police Department during a recent City Council  meeting, frustrated by how he believes police are handling crime. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

SANFORD — Deputy Mayor Lucas Lanigan had some harsh words for the Sanford Police Department on Tuesday.

Lanigan, during the Councilor Comment section of the agenda at the end of the City Council meeting, claimed “known” drug houses are being ignored by police and that officers are unable to multitask.

“Other communities are getting it done. And I am wondering why we’re not … for them not to be able to multitask and maybe write a ticket (for an infraction) and enforce drug incidents is really sad,” said Lanigan, in part. “This is not the first, the second, or third time I have heard this. I would like to get to the bottom of it, citizens are frustrated. Citizens are not getting the results they assume they’d get from a law enforcement officer on a call.”

His remarks hit a nerve with Councilor Joseph Hanslip, chair of the council’s public safety subcommittee.

“I was shocked and appalled at the accusations that Deputy Mayor Lanigan made,” said Hanslip on Wednesday. “Some of what he was referring to was in a recent email that all members of the council got. He was presenting as fact items purported in the email – which may all well be true but he didn’t hear or see it.”

Hanslip acknowledged Sanford has problems with drug dealers, and issues surrounding the homeless population, but pointed out that just because you “know” something that doesn’t mean a law enforcement officer can swear out a warrant for an arrest.

“We have a police department to be proud of that does a good job under extremely trying circumstances,” said Hanslip. “We need more cops, more resources. When calls come in they have to be triaged. The trying circumstances don’t need to be added to by remarks of a city councilor, some of which is based on hearsay and conjecture.”

Police Chief Thomas Connolly said he understands Lanigan’s frustration.

“We do multitask on a regular basis,” said Connolly on Wednesday. “I understand the frustration people have. And I understand the councilor is frustrated.”

“We only have 42 people,” said Connolly. He said the department’s primary task is responding to 911 calls and investigating crime.

“Then we do everything else, and there’s a lot of everything else,” he said.

Connolly noted that most drug distribution goes on in private homes.

“You need a search warrant and you need probable cause and that is not easy to meet,” said Connolly. “Saying 4 to 6 people go in and out (of a specific house) is not probable cause.”

“I wish we could march into every house where we think people are selling drugs,” said Connolly. “There’s a difference between thinking and probable cause.”

He said if people are using drugs in public or if caught holding illegal drugs, they will be charged.

Connolly said even though staffing is tight, he is poised to assign an officer to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency in an effort to increase the amount of time MDEA already devotes to Sanford.

Mayor Thomas Cote also expressed frustration at the City Council meeting, noting he had recently called police twice – once for an individual passed out on a lawn in Springvale and another, apparently intoxicated, attempting to ride a bicycle on Main Street.

“We need to be clear about our goals and priorities as a city,” said Cote. He said if such behavior is tolerated, despite economic development efforts, “no one will come here.”

“I’m starting to scratch my head about what is going on about the enforcement of laws,” said Cote, “We need a conversation to get an understanding, particularly about the drug use.”

Hanslip said two citizens have spoken to him, concerned about Lanigan’s comments.

“In my opinion, he took some cheap shots,” said Hanslip, who was a police officer in  Massachusetts several years ago.  “He avoided talking about names of  officers but painted the police department with a very broad brush. I think there are far more effective ways of addressing problems and concerns. And I believe some problems have been addressed, but obviously not to Lanigan’s satisfaction.”

Hanslip said he believes Lanigan’s remarks violate three provisions of the Council Code of Conduct, including the  prohibition on making accusatory remarks about an employee; a prohibition on making disparaging remarks about an employee in or out of council or committee meetings and a third provision, which prohibits criticizing employees publicly. In the third case, the councilor is instructed to voice the issue to the city manager, who is then tasked with investigating and acting on the matter, if necessary.

“In fairness to (Deputy Mayor Lanigan) I absolutely believe he cares deeply about Sanford and Springvale and for the most part does what he thinks is best for the community we all serve,” said Hanslip. “But that’s not the way to attain any positive objective.”

Cote, in an email, said he’s had no feedback or complaints from anyone regarding Lanigan’s statement.

“The challenge with the Councilor Comments section of our meeting is that they can lack context and background,” said Cote. “From my perspective, questionable comments almost always occur when communication breaks down and frustration is high. I believe this is the case with the Deputy Mayor’s comments, and we are working to make sure everyone is on the same page moving forward.”

“I am not certain if the Deputy Mayor’s comments were in violation of our Code of Conduct,” Cote further stated.  “I have not reviewed the situation and the only feedback I have received is from the media. I have run well over a hundred council meetings as Sanford’s Mayor and do not review meeting contents for inappropriateness without cause.”

Councilor John Tuttle, also a member of the public safety subcommittee, said police today have a tough job and in the end, the city council and police have to work together.

“He really feels seriously about stuff,” said Tuttle of Lanigan. “By bringing it forward, in the long run, it will make it a better council.”

Lanigan on Friday said the email complaint he received that sparked his comments has been echoed by other citizens.

“We as councilors need to make sure the funding is available for the department if there is a lack of resources to accomplish the goals of the city,” said Lanigan, in part.

He noted he did not name individual police officers, but was speaking about the police department as a whole and so his remarks did not breach the code of conduct.

“Our job as councilors is to be a voice of the citizens,” Lanigan said. “If I hadn’t sounded frustrated I wouldn’t have been doing my job.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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