Trafton taking next step in 30-year career with run for sheriff

By Tanya Mitchell | Jan 29, 2014
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell Waldo County Chief Deputy announced his plans to run for the sheriff's post this week, as Sheriff Scott Story announced his plans to retire at the end of his current term.

Belfast — Since he was a boy, Jeff Trafton has been known for his tendency to keep an eye on the future and plan accordingly.

"I was always planning ahead," said Trafton, a resident of Thorndike. "I can remember my father making comments like that about me all the time."

And after about two years of serving as Chief Deputy under Waldo County Sheriff Scott Story, Trafton is preparing to make good on a goal he'd set for himself early in his law enforcement career, when he was a young Maine State Trooper working in Waldo County.

"I'd like to be the next sheriff," said Trafton, who spoke with The Republican Journal to announce his candidacy Monday, Jan. 27. "... Scott Story has done a great job, and I was honored when he invited me to come up here to be his chief deputy. He knew I was interested in running for sheriff, and I think it gave me a good opportunity to learn how things are done here, and to meet the people."

As Trafton announced his intentions to run for the office, Story announced his plans to retire from the position after serving since 2000. At that time, Story was appointed to the sheriff's post after then-Sheriff Robert Jones died of a heart attack while fighting a fatal fire in Unity in which three autistic children perished.

Trafton said he first considered a run for sheriff back in 1989, when retired Maine Game Warden and former Sheriff John Ford made a successful bid for the office. The sheriff for which Ford took over, Stan Knox, was a former Maine State Police officer, and Trafton said that's what got him thinking about running for the post himself.

"I thought, even back then, that I might like to do this some day," said Trafton.

Trafton grew up in the small Piscataquis County town of Wellington, where it was rare for residents to have much contact with law enforcement. Typically if police were in town, they were just passing through on the way to another call.

"All we saw was the flashing lights," said Trafton.

Trafton said during his career he's always valued maintaining connections with the people who reside in the communities he's served, and expressed gratitude that his belief was nurtured over the years by people like Ford, retired Maine State Police Trooper Mark Nickerson (Trafton's former training officer) and Jones, who was affectionately known as "Jonesy" to all who worked for and with him.

Trafton said he learned just how well he followed that code while traveling the county collecting signatures to kick off his run for sheriff.

"I got several signatures from people who I have taken into custody in the past," said Trafton.

One man reminded Trafton of when he arrested him on a traffic offense years ago and after a few minutes of catching up, Trafton said not only did the man offer his signature in support of Trafton's run, but so did his wife and his sister.

Trafton said as an officer you sometimes have to apprehend your neighbors, but it's how you conduct yourself as a professional that makes the difference in how the public sees you.

"You just have to treat people with respect," he said.

After finishing high school, Trafton enlisted in the United State Marine Corps and stayed in for four years, an experience Trafton said not only gave him a sense of what it is like to serve the public, but also the chance to meet some interesting people.

In July of 1981, Trafton was honored as the Marine of the Month. As part of his reward, then-19-year-old Trafton met with President Ronald Reagan while Reagan was visiting Quantico, Va.

"He stood there and talked for about 20 minutes," said Trafton, showcasing a photograph in his office commemorating the occasion.

After his time in the Marines, Trafton spent the next 17 years in the Army National Guard and in 1998, he served as the commander for the 133rd Engineer Battalion.

As much as Trafton enjoyed his military service, his passion for law enforcement came first. At age 22, Trafton started his career as a Maine State Police Trooper covering the Thorndike-Unity area. In 1991, Trafton was honored as the Maine State Trooper of the Year, an award that meant he got the first 1992 police cruiser the department put on the road that year.

In his nearly 30-years in law enforcement, Trafton said he's seen lots of changes in the profession that concern everything from what's in the law books to the technology that is now available to officers in their everyday duties. One of the first things Trafton had to learn as a new trooper, for example, was where to find all the pay phones in the county so he could reach dispatchers if necessary.

"In 1984, we didn't have cell phones," said Trafton.

One positive improvement Trafton sees in today's laws is that officers can now arrest a suspected abuser in a domestic situation if they see evidence of the abuse such as bruising or bleeding. That was not always the case, Trafton said, as the prior laws dictated that a victim had to give a statement and make a formal complaint.

Trafton said that's not an easy thing for victims to do, as evidenced by one incident he covered early in his career as a trooper. The man, who was more than six feet tall and quite aggressive, had Trafton pinned up against the wall at one point and refused to allow Trafton to speak with the woman inside the house. But after the officer went into what he called "diplomatic mode," Trafton was able to speak with the woman, and what he saw indicated the woman had just been badly assaulted.

"She had her robe buttoned right up, and she had gooped on some make-up to try and hide the bruises on her face," said Trafton.

Despite Trafton's assurances that he was there to help her, the woman refused to make a complaint, and it left his hands tied.

"I had to leave her there with him; there was nothing I could do," he said. "When those laws changed, it was a happy day."

Another case that stayed with Trafton was another from his early days as a trooper. The female victim, who lived in Trafton's community at the time, was estranged from her husband and lived with her 10-year-old son. One night, Trafton recalled, the husband came to the home, gagged the boy and brutally raped the woman.

That woman and her son have since gone on to live successful, happy lives, but the case still haunts Trafton to this day.

"I felt horrible that it even had to happen, and I think that's why the issue of domestic violence is so important to me," said Trafton. "That case really affected me because it was so close to my home, and because the abuser in that case was so cold, so uncaring. He felt he did absolutely nothing wrong."

Today Trafton joins others in law enforcement, corrections, the court system and advocate groups in continuing the fight against domestic violence in a fledgling task force aimed at addressing high-risk domestic violence cases with an emphasis on the victim.

Along the same lines of maintaining connections with the public, Trafton is also heavily involved in Waldo County TRIAD. The group includes police, local organizations and citizens and seeks to improve the safety of residents over the age of 50 through education and service. The group offers services to help emergency responders to locate a home quickly, a daily call-in program, 911 cell phones, outdated and unwanted medication disposal, warm winter clothing, a newsletter on current scams and how to avoid them, and educational programs on avoiding identity theft.

Trafton said like Story, he is also a firm believer in frugality, especially during these tight times.

"We run as tight a ship financially as we can, and I really do feel the sheriff's office gives the public a lot for the money," he said.

And despite working on a slim budget, Trafton said all of the employees at the sheriff's office have done well in their efforts to do more with less.

"They all put their heart and soul in here," he said.

Moving on to the sheriff's position, said Trafton, would be a particularly meaningful step for him because he must be elected in order to do the job.

"I get to be picked by the people I serve, and that's a big draw for me," he said.

As sheriff, Trafton said he wants to focus more on the portion of the population who police rarely encounter in the hopes of improving the services provided at WCSO.

"Too many times, law enforcement spends 90 percent of their time with five percent of the population, and I want to spend more time with that larger part of the population," he said. "I want to serve that other 95 percent of the people, who are hardworking, every day citizens, and help make their lives better. hat's why we're here, and that's what it's all about."

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Tanya Mitchell
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Tanya has been a general news reporter in Waldo County since 1997.

 

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