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Paris officers speak out
PARIS — On Monday night, for the first time in a public forum, Paris police officers expressed their feelings about the proposed merger of the Paris and Norway police departments.
Comments on the proposal were heard from officers and residents during a public hearing on the issue at the Paris Fire Department.
The officers' opinions varied from full support to near-denunciation.
Detective Zane Loper, a Paris officer since 1992, said he planned to leave the force if the merger was approved, and that he wasn't alone.
"We're leaving because the boat is sinking," said Loper.
Loper blamed the budget committee and the town for bringing the department to this point.
"I'm not going to get out of the cruiser and risk my life for someone that's ungrateful," Loper said. "I'm putting my career on the line telling you all that."
Chief David Verrier said that Timothy Gamache, a Paris officer, is leaving the force to take a job with the Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office. Gamache will continue to work part-time with Paris PD.
Verrier said that Gamache had wanted the job for a long time and wished him well.
Lieutenant Michael Dailey said that he was in support of the merger.
"I think we need the supervision at night between the two towns because of the safety issues," said Dailey.
Daily responded to citizen's concerns that the merger could threaten town identity.
"A resident of Paris can't survive without Norway and vice versa," he said. "We've got to forget about those divisions and work together."
Dailey said that it was the yearly budgeting process, rather than the merger, that was bringing down department morale.
Officer Nate Bowie said that he had been on the fence about the merger since the idea came up.
"I still will not tell you that I'm 100 percent for this ... because I'm not," he said.
Bowie, who is regularly on night duty, criticized the town for not supporting the department.
"We've had to fight for everything," said Bowie.
"I'm not saying that this merger answers everything, but if it will get you people – and I mean the budget committee and the selectboard – to leave us alone and let us do our job, then I'm for it."
Sergeant Hartley "Skip" Mowatt opposed the proposal and asked for Verrier to step down if he did not want his position.
"If you don't want to be chief anymore, please resign. Let someone else take over the helm," he told Verrier.
In the proposal, Verrier would replace Mowatt as the School Resource Officer (SRO) and Mowatt would return to duty as a supervisor.
A number of residents at the meeting voiced opposition to this part of the proposal, calling Mowatt a successful SRO and criticizing the lack of public input in the decision to replace him.
Despite his opposition, Mowatt said that he would abide by the town's decision.
"I'll do what I'm told," Mowatt said. "I've served you for over 20 years and I'll continue to serve you until I get ready to retire."
The officers were unanimous in their opinion that budget cuts were straining the abilities of the Paris department in an increasingly hazardous and complex environment.
The request by some audience members to tighten their belts even further angered several of the officers, who claimed that the current levels of staffing and equipment were putting officer's lives in danger.
"The crime is real out here and we are definitely understaffed and undermanned for what we're doing," Loper said.
Verrier and Norway Police Chief Robert Federico have repeatedly stated that the merger would help by putting an extra officer on the road during high call times.
The Paris board took no action at the hearing, but Chairman Bob Kirchherr said he thought the board would rework the proposed interlocal agreement and could have a version ready for another public hearing by the end of the summer.