Freeport Police and town officials hosted a remote public forum to discuss local policing. Courtesy Photo

FREEPORT — In the wake of the growing Black Lives Matter movement, Freeport police and town officials have started what they hope will be a series of conversations around local law enforcement policy and procedure.

An online forum Tuesday was not in response to anything that has happened in Freeport, Councilor Dan Piltch said, but rather an opportunity to discuss local policing after the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minnesota last month. 

Floyd’s death ignited outrage across the country, sparking protests and calls to end police brutality and racism, as well as calls to defund police departments. 

Shortly after, town leadership released a statement confirming their commitment to “the equal and fair treatment of everyone in our community, regardless of the differences among us.” 

“We join those around the nation who have been rightfully shocked and angry as they have watched these events unfold. We are committed to ensuring that tragic events like these do not take place in our town and that all people, and specifically people of color, feel safe and protected in our community,” Police Chief Susan Nourse, Council Chair John Egan, Vice Chair Tawni Whitney, and Town Manager Peter Joseph wrote in the joint statement. “Discrimination of any kind, especially racial discrimination, will not be tolerated in our town.”

The conversations may be uncomfortable in many respects, Joseph said, but are necessary to create trust and to blur the distinction between their roles as public servants and members of the public. 


Discussion on Tuesday covered training, the use of force continuum and the complaint process, but focused largely around funding and social services, body cameras and monitoring equipment and the role of the school resource officer. 

Freeport Police receive training surrounding use of force, de-escalation, implicit bias, prohibited and required conduct and more, Police Chief Susan Nourse said. The policies and procedures are regularly reviewed to keep up with industry standards, but are missing public input.

Nourse said Tuesday that she hopes to form a committee for members of the community to study police policy and better guide their practices. 

Freeport is a small town, resident Darren Landry said, but so is St. Anthony, Minnesota, where 32-year-old Philando Castile was shot and killed during a traffic stop in 2016. Police brutality can happen anywhere on the map, he said, and questioned why Freeport officers are not required to wear body cameras, and instead use body microphones and police cruiser cameras. 

According to Joseph, the council discussed body cameras about three years ago, but ultimately decided not to require them for privacy reasons and policy issues concerning turning the cameras on and off. A camera being turned off could be a simple mistake, but becomes almost a presumption of guilt, he said. 

Freeport has been “on the leading edge” of video technology, and was one of the first departments to have cruiser video nearly 20 years ago when the equipment was a VHS tape in the trunk, Nourse said, but the department had concerns about the technical support and storage space needed for the footage. 


In order to have body cameras, the police would need someone fully dedicated to dealing with the maintenance, uploading and storing the files, redacting faces, and the like, Officer Paul Powers said. 

The cameras are “not a magic pill” and are not only “hugely expensive,” he said, but also often don’t capture much because of where they are positioned on the chest. The cruiser cameras and body microphones, which the department does have, are more effective at capturing the whole picture when working in tandem, he said. 

Still, Joseph said the decision was a political one and can be “reexamined at any time.” 

One of the concerns for people demanding to “defund the police” is that there are often calls that police are unequipped to handle but are forced to deal with anyway. In many cases, the goal to “defund” is not to remove the department entirely but instead to take some of the funding and reallocate the money to social support services like social work

“There are times when these officers are sent to help someone and it is not a police matter,” Lt. Nate Goodman said. Sometimes these calls are concerning mental health crises, civil property disputes or a person with dementia. They are sent there because there isn’t anyone else to send. 

“That segment of policing has expended very much in the last few years,” he said. 


The training has attempted to keep pace, and the officers complete substantial mental health training each year, but there is still much to be desired.

“I don’t know what the perfect answer is,” Nourse said, adding that mental health crises are some of the most difficult calls to respond to. They don’t know the person’s background or how they may react to the police. More support services, such as additional training or even a social worker, would be welcome, she said, but as is often the case, it is largely a question of resources. 

As conversations around policing continue, discussions are also cropping up surrounding the effectiveness of school resource officers and whether exposing students, especially minority students, to police in schools is a good idea. 

Ryun Anderson, a resident and executive director of the Restorative Justice Institute of Maine, said she plans to convene a group to examine the role of the school resource officer in Freeport, as well as possible alternatives. 

Officer Mike McManus has been the Freeport School Resource Officer for decades, and is an opportunity for students to get to know an officer in a classroom setting and not in a disturbance call to their homes, Nourse said. 

The schools are like their own mini-communities and have all the same issues that a town does, so having an officer there to address those calls is a benefit for the police, the town, and the students, she said. 


“I know there’s been some talk about whether it’s effective, (but I) feel it’s a very strong benefit for Freeport.” 

Nate Pillsbury, a parent of three kids in the school system, argued that, as previously discussed, in a small town “anything and everything can happen,” and that extends not only to police violence but also to school shootings and other tragedies.

“Evil exists,” he said, and if someone dangerous entered one of the schools, he would want to make sure there was a school resource officer on hand. 

When kids go back to the school in the fall, there will already be heightened tensions around race, resident Stephanie Millett said, and suggested there should be more organized, thoughtful discussions between police and students, not just exposure to them in the hallways or classrooms. 

Council Chair John Egan said the Black Lives Matter movement is important because it shows “there are plenty of voices not being heard,” and as a white male and town official, he needs to be more in tune with those voices, to make sure everyone is heard. 

“Just because I think things are going along fine,” does not mean they are, he said. 

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