Gibbs to challenge Trafton for sheriff's badge

Challenger opens first contested sheriff's race in decades
By Ethan Andrews | Feb 01, 2018
Photos by: Ethan Andrews Belfast Police Sergeant John Gibbs, left, is seeking the post of Waldo County sheriff, currently held by Jeffrey Trafton, who is seeking re-election.

Belfast — Belfast Police Department's second in command, Sgt. John Gibbs, recently announced on social media that he will challenge Sheriff Jeffrey Trafton to lead the county's law enforcement arm. His entry opens the first contested race for Waldo County Sheriff in more than two decades.

As of Jan. 28, Gibbs had collected most of the 300 signatures he will need as an Independent candidate. Trafton, who is running as a Republican, filed to run Jan. 25.

Gibbs said he has no bone to pick with Trafton, but he has been planning a run for sheriff for a long time and sees some potential problems with county law enforcement and corrections that he wants to address. His top priorities are to have full 24-hour coverage by the Sheriff's Office, improve communications between departments and reevaluate  the costs and benefits of the county's Re-entry Center and garden program.

Gibbs, who has been with Belfast Police since 1989, runs the department's Facebook page. He recalls being among the first in the state to adopt social media as a means of talking to the community, whose members were increasingly migrating online.

In those days, he said, police departments were cagey about social media. Gibbs recalled Trafton, who was then Belfast Police Chief, shutting down the department's page on several occasions, effectively replacing a wall between police and the community that Gibbs, in the interest of showing police as regular people, was trying to knock down.

"It's the Main Street of our world today," Gibbs said. "If you're afraid of social media, you might as well walk down the street with a bag on your head."

Police department Facebook pages have become more widely adopted since then, and even popular. Ironically, he said, emergency communications have become worse as technology has improved.

Where an earlier generation of first responders heard everything through a simple radio, today's radios are overly complex, he said. Communications often happen via cell phone or through scrambled radio signals, which often results in inefficient, uncoordinated responses, he said. Additionally, he said, law enforcement agencies that don't talk to each other are prone to territorialism.

"It's part of my feeling that we need to come together more and not be divided by technology, and maybe an opinion about another agency that might not be correct."

Gibbs said he would like to research installing GPS transponders on cruisers, so dispatchers could see on a map which first responders were best located for any given call. Ideally, he said, this would happen in coordination with State Police and other departments.

Looking back at the 20-plus years since the last contested sheriff's race, Gibbs said he sees something like a succession of vice presidents becoming president. The department would benefit from having a sheriff with no prior connections, he said.

Trafton, who was elected sheriff in 2014 after serving as chief deputy under Scott Story, appears to fit that description. But Trafton said he never saw his rise to sheriff as a succession. He had known for years that he wanted to be sheriff, he said, but he didn't want to run against Story, who was a friend.

Trafton served with Maine State Police for 21 years, and was a lieutenant in command of Troop D when he retired in 2005. He was hired that year as Belfast police chief, a position he held for six years.

When then-Chief Deputy Robert Keating retired, Story recommended Trafton for the job, and Trafton took it as an opportunity to learn about the department he hoped eventually to lead.

Since his election as sheriff in 2014, when he ran unopposed, Trafton has taken a particular interest in domestic violence. He attributed his interest to the scope of the problem and also to having been bullied earlier in life.

"There's no worse bully in my view than than a domestic violence abuser," he said, "because they're bullying the people they're supposed to love."

As sheriff, he offered office space in the department's building to New Hope for Women to allow for better communication between the domestic violence support organization and police. Additionally, he revived the domestic violence task force in Waldo County, formed a domestic violence community response team for crisis situations, and got grant funding to hire a full-time domestic violence detective along with a $5,000 Maine Community Foundation grant to help victims and their children.

Trafton also re-established Waldo County Triad, a consortium of law enforcement, volunteers and social services that works on behalf of senior citizens.

"It's a way for me to connect with our senior citizen population," he said. "In law enforcement, 90 percent of the time we deal with 5 percent of the population. So, seniors are often overlooked."

Some of these programs existed in other counties, and Trafton said he was happy to bring them here.

"If something's working in another county, we're going to copy it," he said.

Trafton expressed a strong interest in "customer service" and said he wants to give the best possible version "to the people who come into the office, or call. Or to a degree, even the people we arrest."

Trafton said he felt lucky that nobody ran against him for his first term, but he made a point to say that he takes pride in having been elected rather than appointed.

"I'm hoping that if people vote for me, they vote for me because they think I'm qualified and I've done a good job so far," he said. "Nobody's perfect, but I don't think they're going to find anybody who will work harder than I have."

After four years as sheriff, he believes he's just getting started.

"It's a great job," he said. "I can't fault anybody for wanting to be sheriff."

Gibbs, for his part, believes it's his time to lead the department and that he has what it takes.

"I've been tossing this around for a long, long time," he said. "I don't have anything against Jeff. I like Jeff. But now's the time for me."

Comments (1)
Posted by: Carrie Bacon | Feb 01, 2018 12:54

This is going to be a hard choice!  I know these men from work and I like them both AND respect both of them...



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