Resignations again put Searsport chief in 'tough spot'

High turnover a recurring problem for the small department
By Ethan Andrews | Feb 05, 2018

Searsport — The resignation of Searsport's last regular full-time police officer has the town looking for new recruits, though not for the first time.

Officer Dan Owens resigned Jan. 31. Another full-time officer, David Mushrall, left in October 2017 and has yet to be replaced.

Police Chief Dick LaHaye, who is now running the department with five reserve officers, said both Owens and Mushrall left for better opportunities. That's been a recurring theme in Searsport.

LaHaye, who has led the department for 11 years, said officers don't have to look far to find higher-paying work with better benefits. Typically, they stay in Searsport for three to five years and move on, he said.

"We have a name for it," he said. "We're a training ground."

In 2010, the department had three full-time officers in addition to LaHaye. Within less than a month, all three officers left for other prospects.

Another time, LaHaye recalled hiring four officers with no experience and sending them to Maine Criminal Justice Academy for requisite training. Towns repay the cost of Academy training over five years, but new recruits often don't stick around that long.

"Within three years, they all left," he said.

Maine law entitled Searsport to collect two years' worth of Academy payments from the department to which the officers moved. But then, as with the current resignations, Searsport was forced to rebuild the department with new officers, some of whom might need training.

"It's just tough," LaHaye said. "It's a tough spot to be in."

Searsport Police responded to 2,616 calls for service in 2017. LaHaye said risks in police work are greater than when he started, which may turn away some qualified candidates. Since December, when the Searsport first advertised for a new officer, the department has received just one application, LaHaye said.

"We've been here before and we've persevered," he said. "We continue to do the expectations the public has of us."

Even when "us" is just him.

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