Franklin Countys First News

A Q&A with Franklin County’s candidates for Sheriff

With elections nearing, the Daily Bulldog presented each candidate for Franklin County Sheriff a series of questions regarding their histories, philosophies and plan of action if voted to the position. The answers from each candidate are listed below.

Elections will take place on Nov. 3 by an in-person vote or an absentee ballot. Contact your local town office for details on where to vote, or to request an absentee ballot. All ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. For help registering, contact your local town office.

How did you come to law enforcement as a profession? What influences did you have growing up, and/or when and why did you decide this was your chosen career? What has made you stick with it over the years?

EDDIE HASTINGS: Growing up in Chesterville, my attention was drawn to public safety while watching my dad as a volunteer firefighter. In 5th grade, I participated in the DARE program where I met Irving Dorr who was a Patrolman for the Farmington Police Department. At this point in my life I became interested in law enforcement and the work

Eddie Hastings

it entails. After my very first police ride-a-long, I was hooked. I spent the rest of my youthful time working to understand more about what police officers do and spent hundreds of hours shadowing our local officers mostly with Franklin County Deputies.

Keeping in mind I grew up in the '80s and '90s and this was the time when we started to learn about domestic violence, my family was no exception. I grew up in a home where we saw domestic violence and substance (alcohol) abuse in my home. Thankfully, our parents were not physically violent towards us, only each other; however, I learned early on in life the struggles kids endure growing up in that environment. My home life, coupled with my exposure to law enforcement, and the ability I saw they have to improve an individual’s quality of life, all worked to solidify my desires to become a police officer.

I enjoy helping people and I have seen the impact firsthand. I want to continue to make sure we are doing the best we can to support those in need, while upholding the laws of our State, and working together to make a safe place for my family and yours.

Scott Nichols

SCOTT NICHOLS: I remember looking at a flyer left in the high school guidance room from the Maine State Police, I read it and knew that was what I wanted to be. I joined the Army in 1979 as a Military Policemen which provided an introduction to the world of policing. After leaving the Army, I applied for and was accepted into the State Police in 1984. Law Enforcement is really a calling, much like people are called to be firefighters, EMTs, doctors, nurses, or any other type of specialty when it comes to the public service. This is my life calling and I have put my heart and soul into protecting my neighbors and my community.

What is one thing you think the public may not realize about working in law enforcement?

EDDIE HASTINGS: In some cases police officers are challenged to make the right decision, at the right time, for the right reason, hoping we achieve the best outcome, and at times making this happen with only seconds to think about it.

SCOTT NICHOLS: That the person behind the badge is just like you. They have families and deal with all the issues of the day to day life anybody else does. The big difference is that they and their family members are always under a microscope and have to live their lives as unblemished as possible.

What are your top concerns facing the county right now? What are your ideas to address those issues?

EDDIE HASTINGS: My current role in law enforcement puts me on the front lines responding to the calls that involve substance abuse/misuse and drug overdoses. I am hoping to use my experience and life lessons to help address the problem areas more quickly in our community. Throughout my career I have provided CPR/Narcan, executed search warrants, spoke with grieving family members, and certainly see first-hand how serious this issue has become. I believe that targeting the problem areas quicker will allow us to intervene earlier in the investigations and prevent many lives from being destroyed from the cycle of addiction. Getting involved with these individuals may provide us an opportunity to connect them with rehabilitation services that could help change their life. In partnership with our local medical providers we can ensure people have access to treatment and support.

The turnover rate with county employees is very discouraging. Most recently, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office lost a 10-year veteran police officer as well as a corrections officer with more than five years on the job. We must focus on the employees and what needs to be done to improve their working conditions. I feel very strongly that training is a vital tool that can be used to invest in the employees as well as propel them forward with knowledge, new ideas, and confidence.

The mental health dilemma is difficult everywhere and connecting people to the proper support will be our primary mission in addressing this. During my time in law enforcement, our involvement and partnership with mental health services has tremendously increased and has created an important working relationship. At Farmington PD we have worked hard to connect our residents with mobile mental health support at their homes. Though this service is currently available county wide, it is not something which is currently used throughout Franklin County. Not only do these services work, they often help to relieve the burden on our hospital staff. In addition to field support, we need to work with our hospitals to gain access to the inpatient treatment programs needed to help those who are having mental health crisis.

The impact COVID-19 has had on our community changes daily. When I started this campaign, I was a sitting selectman and was deeply concerned about property taxes, loss of jobs, and how people were going to survive. As Sheriff I am planning to work directly with the County Commissioners, county budget committee, and other department heads, to better use my grant writing experience and my experience with the federal surplus equipment program to make sure we are doing the best we can to keep our budgets in check while still providing our personnel with the equipment they need to perform their duties.

SCOTT NICHOLS: Well if you mean what crimes most affect us - Opioid addiction without a doubt is the single biggest contributor to crime and recidivism. Under my direction, the jail has partnered with the Healthy Community Coalition two years ago to assist us in this battle. We know we cannot arrest our way out of the drug crises. However we hope that by having peer recovery coaches in the jail to help guide inmates in the direction of recovery and point them to the services available to them once they are out. Coupled with our Medically Assisted Treatment program that treats inmates currently on an opioid addiction program, it is our hope that the combined efforts will be effective to those wishing to participate. This takes a whole community to combat. Those who are fighting their addiction need family support, professional treatment and the support of the community. Most importantly, they need to want to recover. Ultimately, we need to break the chain by preventing people from becoming addicted in the first place. Working to limit the amount of illegal narcotics available in our community is a dastardly battle and one that we need every citizen to be willing to work with us to accomplish. We encourage anyone with knowledge of illegal drug activity to contact us so we can work to interdict that source.

Opioids get the most attention however domestic violence is probably the leading contender when it comes to police response. All crimes are difficult to predict and we often find ourselves picking up the pieces after an incident has happened. If we have some sort of notion an event is possible, we are able to provide information about services available to the potential victim to either prevent it or provide some sort of protection such as a Protection From Abuse order, Protection From Harassment orders etc. to get the parties separated. There are many groups out there such as Safe Voices, the Children’s Task Force and DHHS that provide education and services before and after and assault occurs. We need people to know that there is help available to them if they are in a violent relationship. All too often we see victims blaming themselves for the violent actions of their partner. They sometimes think that it is something they have done or didn’t do that has caused their partner to become violent. Other times they believe if they just stay with their partner that things will get better. This is rarely the case. We work closely with Safe Voices, DHHS and the Children’s Task Force in helping to put the pieces back together, what we really need to find is a way to reach people, both offenders and victims, before the relationship turns violent.

Who else do you see as being on the team combatting those issues? Are there any changes you think need to be made for those agencies to be more effective?

EDDIE HASTINGS: One of the big areas I am looking to emphasize/expand is to include members from the public by offering education on ways we can all work together to better impact substance abuse/misuse & overdose.

The employees will need to work together to help us map the future of the department so that everyone gets a piece of the pie. This will need to involve making sure we are providing training opportunities and updated equipment for everyone. We will need to work with the Board of Visitors to address some of the concerns they have highlighted in their report, which will involve a collective conversation with personnel who work in the jail and the County Commissioners.

We will need to work together with local mental health providers like Evergreen Behavioral Services, Tri-County Mental Health, Western Maine Behavioral Health, and others to help discuss ways we can improve our local services for mental health issues.

Inter-department cooperation and asset sharing will only improve the impact our county law enforcement agencies can have on the COVID-19 Pandemic. If there are purchases that are being made, we should make certain that there isn’t already the same thing stored in a closet someplace. In addition, we will need our commissioners and the budget committee to make sure our budgets are staying in line.

SCOTT NICHOLS: The Sheriff’s Office works with all surrounding law enforcement agencies in monthly meetings to share information about criminal activity and trends we are seeing. This all-inclusive approach helps the officers in our community work together more closely. When it comes to making all of our efforts more effective, funding is typically an issue. While we don’t believe that simply pouring money on a problem will make that problem go away, there is certainly opportunity to be more effective by having more people professionally involved in solving and preventing these issues, and that costs money.

Do you believe law enforcement and the jail is adequately funded at the county level?

EDDIE HASTINGS: Yes, I do! The 2021 law enforcement budget is $1,824,095.00. This is a $402,688.00 increase in the last nine years and does not include the recent $100,000.00 increase this past summer with the creation of a deputy paid for through the unorganized territories budget. The 2021 jail budget is $2,254,282.00. This is a $633,081.00 increase in just the past four years. Given these numbers, which were provided by the County Commissioner’s Office, the Sheriff’s budget has increased over 34 percent in the past 9 years. I believe we need to take a closer look at how we are spending our tax dollars.

SCOTT NICHOLS: By utilizing any available grants and by working with the collective bargaining units that represent patrol and corrections, we have been able to provide excellent service over the years without significant increases in either budget. For years we have been working to add additional manpower to patrol and we have received a grant to add one additional deputy for the ensuing year. We also maintain an excellent working relationship with the State Police to ensure adequate manpower and call response times. You will frequently see Deputies and Troopers working side by side at calls, backing one another up to ensure everyone’s safety. The jail budget is unique because we do not have total control over it and are capped as to how much that budget can increase each year. Recently we started to board inmates from other overcrowded jails facilities which will bring in much needed revenue to plug the built in jail budget gap we experience every year.

Do you support the Black Lives Matter movement?

EDDIE HASTINGS: I am very understanding to the black lives matter movement and I support the mission to create equal justice for all. My thoughts on the actual movement is that people in our country have a right to their views and I will support people who peacefully protest in our community.

SCOTT NICHOLS: I support any group’s right to freedom of speech regardless of its content.

What changes do you think need to be made at a national or local level in order to address issues of implicit bias?

EDDIE HASTINGS: As Sheriff, I plan to bring the agency to a standard of national accreditation. Doing this will ensure our practices are current, our personnel have the proper training, and reduce liability our county faces. Those who have been following this campaign may recall hearing this accreditation does cost between $6,000 to $14,000 because of the level of consulting that needs to occur to get a program started.

I will also work diligently to hold officers accountable for their actions. From my perspective, when officers use excessive force there is a history of policy violations that have occurred leading up to that incident. If we address these problems early, we can deter the undesired behavior and ultimately provide a better service to everyone.

As Sheriff I would also encourage the agency to become more involved with the community in which it serves. I feel very strongly that the more engaged we become in our community, the more our residents will understand the work we are doing. This will not only create a better understanding of the communities by the deputies, but a better understanding of the deputies by the citizens.

SCOTT NICHOLS: Maine has always been a leader when it comes to training in this area. The Basic Law Enforcement Training Program provides a variety of training to Law enforcement officers that relate to community policing and implicit bias training and awareness. Some of the courses are as follows; Harassment, Americans with Disabilities Act, Police Ethics, Moral issue and Discretion, Cultural Diversity, Dealing with the Vulnerable, Mental Health first-Aid, Implicit Human Biases, Use of Force, Civil Liability, Interpersonal Communications/Relations, Crisis Conflict Management.

I am a member of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy Board of Trustees where we deal with ensuring that the training of new officers as well as ongoing training for experienced officers addresses issues such as implicit bias. During our June 19, 2020 Board meeting, additional standards and definitions were added to minimum mandatory policies for Use of Force and Hate or Bias Crimes i.e. prohibiting choke holds, better defining the prohibition of racial profiling etc. These additions to the mandatory minimum standards, require all Maine law enforcement agencies to train and adhere to the new standards. Most notable all agencies will have a policy statement that prohibits the stops, detentions, searches, or asset seizures and forfeiture efforts based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, economic status, age, or cultural group by members of this agency; and which states individuals shall only be stopped or detained when legal authority exist to do so; and that members of this agency must base their enforcement actions solely on an individual’s conduct and behavior or specific suspect information. Every officer is required to complete annual training, frequently that training includes classes on the same topics listed above for the Basic Law Enforcement Training Program as well as new classes such as the changes listed above. Each officer is responsible for their own behavior and each agency is responsible for holding them accountable as well. This Sheriff’s administration has ensured that we hold our staff accountable for their actions, both at work and off from work.

What further steps should our county be taking to address the opioid crisis?

EDDIE HASTINGS: As I have mentioned previously, we need to focus on working with our medical professionals, social services, community members, and those directly affected by the use of opioids in our area. It is imperative that those people who come to our county specifically to prey on our addicted citizens, are identified and investigated as quickly and efficiently as possible. The longer they are allowed to create a drug market in our communities, the more families they will destroy. There should be a major focus on rooting out the dealers before they get established and connecting those who have become addicted with the services they need to overcome it.

SCOTT NICHOLS: We continually seek funding and resources to enhance programs currently in place - or to add additional programs and resources as those needs are identified. As mentioned above, this is a community issue and we need the community involved to combat it.

Anything else you would like to add about why residents should elect you as sheriff?

EDDIE HASTINGS: This is a field I have dedicated my entire working life to. The welfare of my community at a local and county level are the driving force for my vision. In this campaign I have not only tried to share my vision, but also demonstrate my desire to be the next Franklin County Sheriff and do it to the very best of my ability.

I want you all to know that I am not a one term candidate and that my vision extends beyond this term and next for as long as the citizens of Franklin County entrust me in the role as their Sheriff. I am here to make a difference and improve the community my children and yours are growing up in. If given this opportunity and granted the trust of the people of Franklin County, I will work diligently day and night to provide protection and justice for all.

SCOTT NICHOLS: I have 36 years of consecutive law enforcement experience (retired State Trooper after 23 years, five years as a police chief, one year serving in Iraq as an advisor to the Iraqi Police and eight years as your sheriff). I currently represent the Maine Sheriff’s Association as a board member of the Board of Trustees at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. In these past eight years as your Sheriff, my team has increased the visibility of patrol without adding manpower, we transitioned the Sheriff’s Office into a 21st century policing model, we have brought transparency to the Sheriff’s office by providing weekly reports and arrest logs online, we returned the jail to a full-time correctional facility, we established a very large community outreach program that includes our Elder Checks, School outreach, Basic firearms safety course, Building check program, Citizens police academy among others. We established quarterly and annual employee recognition awards. We are always budget conscious working with the county commissioners as well as the budget committee to ensure the citizens of Franklin County receive the best service for least impact upon property taxes. We are always looking to the future by building upon the accomplishments of the past. Promises made, promises kept.

Answers have been lightly edited for brevity purposes only.

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