Fifteen York County municipal police departments and the York County Sheriff’s Office are considering a mutual aid agreement that could see officers or dispatchers from one agency step in to help cover another in a temporary emergency. The agreement, which has been approved by some municipalities and is under consideration in others, originated due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tammy Wells photo

KENNEBUNKPORT — Residents here and in 15 other York County jurisdictions could see officers from another local law enforcement agency at work in their community, if an emergency like coronavirus results in a shortage of their own personnel.

City or town councils, select boards and county commissioners in York County are considering a memorandum of understanding that could see officers or dispatchers from the county’s municipal police departments and the Sheriff’s Office help their neighbors

The agreement stems from a presentation from Kennebunkport Police Chief Craig Sanford to the District 1 (York County) Police Chief’s organization, after learning officers from another police agency had undergone testing for the virus.

Sanford pointed out that if an officer or a dispatcher at a local police department tests positive for coronavirus, not only would that individual be sidelined for a while, but also co-workers determined to have been in close contact would also have to quarantine for a couple of weeks.

Being down a few officers — or a few dispatchers — could make it difficult for some police agencies to cover all shifts, Sanford said in a Nov. 18 interview, pointing out that agencies like the one he heads has 14 police officers.

“Who handles those calls?” he asked. “Could a local agency send someone over? Could I send someone to work and pull a shift just to cover? That was the whole premise.”

Another factor that led to the agreement was a COVID-19 outbreak at York County Jail  that began in August and impacted both inmates and staff until deemed cleared Oct. 12, Saco Police Chief Jack Clements and Mayor William Doyle told the Saco City Council in an October meeting.

If another agency were impacted, Saco could help, “and they’d do it for us if it happened in Saco,” said Clements.

“We hope everyone will be on board,” said District 1 Police Chiefs Chair Jo-Ann Putnam, who is also police chief in Wells, where selectmen have approved the measure.

Old Orchard Beach Town Council approved the agreement on Nov. 17. Saco and Kennebunk have approved it as well.

Kennebunk Police Chief Robert MacKenzie told his town’s Select Board that officers can go to another town in an emergency if requested, by state statute, but the memo of understanding formalizes the process.

“If we were down several officers due to COVID-19, this would allow me to request assistance,” MacKenzie told the Select Board.

Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre initially expressed some skepticism, but said after rereading the agreement thoroughly, he will  send a letter of authorization to the City Council for their consideration.

And Police Chief Sanford said the Kennebunkport Board of Selectmen will take up the matter.

York County Sheriff William King said he expects county commissioners will consider the agreement.

In Saco, one city councilor expressed some misgivings when the matter was first aired in October. Councilor Lynn Copeland worried that not all officers from other jurisdictions would have the same training in some aspects of policing as do Saco officers. She wondered if the agreement would mean Saco would be relinquishing authority to another agency.

Clements assured Copeland that police agencies train annually. And he pointed out that any officers assisting in Saco would be working for the city.

Saco City Council unanimously approved the measure at a November meeting.

The request for assistance is made only when the requesting agency has exhausted or fully committed its available resources, the agreement says, in part.

According to the agreement, “It is understood that the responding agency will extend its best effort to provide assistance in these circumstances.”

Providing assistance is voluntary.

Each sending community would pay the salary and benefits of their officers or dispatchers and provide equipment, like a police cruiser.

The responding agency would assume its own liability incurred to any third party, except to the extent attributable to command or operational decisions made by the requesting department, the agreement states.

Agencies may opt out of the agreement with 10 days notice.

Putnam said the agreement could be used for other emergencies, but was brought on because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I hope we never need it,” she said.

Comments are not available on this story.