By Leslie H. Dixon
AREA — Police chiefs in both Norway and Oxford say they would be hard pressed to respond to a mutual aid call in Paris if that town did not have an officer on duty.
“Mutual aid means just that,” Norway Police Chief Rob Federico said. “It needs to be mutual. During the hours there is no one to assist us there is no mutual aid.”
Federico said he will not risk the safety of his officers or the residents of Norway to assist Paris if there is no officer on duty there.
Oxford Police Chief Jonathan Tibbetts said the issue is not black and white but mutual aid implies that Oxford police would be backing up an officer from another department.
“It is difficult to just say that we would not respond as there are so many variables that may arise in each call but as a rule we would not respond until the deputy called for assistance once they were on scene,” he said in an email Monday to the Advertiser Democrat.
The issue of whether Norway would provide mutual aid to the Town of Paris when there is no Paris officer on duty was raised by Paris Interim Town Manager Sawin Millett as the residents of that town wrangle with how to deal with a costly police department.
All three towns share a mutual aid agreement for unplanned police emergency situations.
Because Paris is looking into contracting with the Oxford County Sherriff’s Office, which would not provide a man on duty 24/7, Millett said he would like to know whether neighboring police departments – Norway and Oxford – would agree to mutual aid if Paris has no officer on duty.
“We would not be first responders to a call, unless it was life threatening, and then it would depend on whether a deputy was en-route or not,” Tibbetts told the Advertiser Democrat. “I do not feel that it is up to the citizens of Oxford to provide a service that is not reciprocal nor beneficial to Oxford.”
Tibbetts has also responded to Millett in a letter dated May 3 in which he said, the Oxford Police Department is solely responsible to provide services to the town of Oxford and that mutual aid agreements are used when there is not enough money to hire additional officers as a way to make it a safer work environment for all.
“Mutual aid is dependent on the neighboring police department having an officer first respond to the emergency call and then the Oxford officer would assist them,” said Tibbetts in the letter to Millett.
Federico told selectmen at their meeting on May 5, that only one patrol officer is on duty in Norway during the early-morning hours, and he would not be willing to jeopardize the protection of Norway to go to Paris if there were no officer on duty there.
“To take that risk in another town would be foolish for us,” Federico said.
Federico said the mutual aid agreement also calls for the Norway officer to report and work under the supervision and direction of the designating supervisor for the calling town – in this case Paris. Federico said they will only respond if there is a designated supervisor on the scene.
Lastly, Federico said the Mutual Aid Agreement allows the towns to determine if there is a risk to their own town by leaving it unattended when there is only one officer on duty.
Norway Selectmen say they agree and support Fedrico’s position.
“If there was no officer in Paris I would be opposed to our officer going over there,” said Selectmen Chairman Bruce Cook who along with fellow board members voted unanimously Thursday night to support the chief in his position about mutual aid.
Oxford selectmen did not address the issue at their meeting last Thursday, said Town Clerk Sheila Cole.
Paris town officials have been trying to cut $500,000 from municipal spending since 2015 in response to residents’ cry for tax relief and a subsequent petition submitted by business owner and resident Scott Buffington to cap the town’s tax rate to the state average.
The $500,000 cut by selectmen included $108,000 from the Police Department’s proposed budget.
The idea of contracting with the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office and getting rid of the Police Department came from those discussions and Paris voters will decide on their police coverage plan June 14.
But at this week’s Paris selectmen’s meeting on Monday, residents questioned a newspaper article they read about the statements made by Norway Police Chief Rob Federico at the Norway selectmen’s meeting.
Police Chief Jeffrey Lange confirmed that police from neither town will go into Paris alone.
“They will not be the first ones in,” explained Lange. “They will back up an officer if an officer needs help, but they will not be the first ones in.”
Selectwoman Janet Jamison said Sheriff Wayne Gallant has promised to address the mutual aid situation at the upcoming police/sheriff forum on May 17.
“The sheriff has a way to address the situation,” said Jamison.