If you read recent newspaper articles focused on discipline within the Maine State Police you were likely left thinking we conduct our work shrouded in secrecy and that we work to protect our own. As the leader of the Maine State Police, I'd like to take the opportunity to set the record straight:
The Maine State Police does not hide wrongdoing and does not choose to keep certain information related to discipline secret. We follow longstanding laws related to personnel investigation and records related to all state employees that have been implemented and refined across time. There are clear rules about what can be released to the public regarding state employees. M.R.S.A. Title 5 §7070 outlines that final discipline decisions can be released to the public. However, it does not authorize the release of investigative details. Thus, when we were asked for our discipline records for the past five years, the Maine State Police provided those records to the media as allowed by law. My concern is there was a missed opportunity to educate the public on what laws are in place that restricts reporting. Instead, the stories described the lack of detail as "secrecy" and a discretionary policy decision by our agency.
The men and women of the Maine State Police are human, which means they are not perfect. The expectation of perfection is not reality. Troopers don't make the correct decision every time. However, Troopers are among the best law enforcement officers this state has to offer. We hold ourselves to the highest standards because we believe that is what the people of Maine deserve. When we become aware of allegations of misconduct or a mistake, we investigate it thoroughly and take appropriate disciplinary action when warranted.
The goal of discipline is to correct the behavior, not just punish the individual. In making disciplinary decisions, we try to consider all the information, including what the Trooper knew at the time of the incident, their performance history, and past disciplinary actions taken on similar incidents. We also hold our Troopers accountable for both on-duty and off-duty conduct, as they represent our agency 24/7 and we value the reputation of our Troopers and our agency in our communities. Our disciplinary actions are subject to the review of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy Board of Trustees, the Maine Attorney General's Office, the State Bureau of Human Resources, and ultimately through arbitration and the court systems if deemed appropriate.
We are the largest agency in the state of Maine with over 330 officers providing services that span the entire state. We calculated statistics to capture how many contacts we make with citizens in an average 5-year period. We received over 325,000 separate requests for service, provided more than 36,000 aid to motorists, and conducted over 350,000 traffic stops. We issued over 110,000 traffic tickets and over 339,000 warnings (1:3 tickets to warnings rate). This work resulted in over 3,500 OUI arrests among other violations. Add to these contacts another 622,000 commercial vehicles checked. This is more than 1,300,000 contacts over the time frame of the research done by this series of stories. That is if every interaction only involved one person.
However, the Office of Professional Standards was contacted 685 times with complaints or inquiries over the same 5-year period. That number includes complaints, concerns, and questions.
The Maine State Police strives to serve the communities to the best of our abilities. We don't make excuses for our mistakes, but we do want you to know that we try to learn from each one, so they are not repeated. We understand and support transparency, but we are obligated to follow the laws in place. Should public agencies include more information about misconduct in disciplinary records? Should the law be clarified or amended? Those are policy questions for lawmakers to consider and we will do our best to answer their questions and provide them with information and our perspective as they take these questions into consideration.
In the meantime, I continue to be proud of our agency, the high-quality work our agency does, and proud of the outstanding men and women that answer the call every day. I firmly believe, relatively speaking, our failures are rare. When they do exist, we address them as fairly and equitably as possible, consistent with the laws of our state, as we work to maintain the accountability that is the cornerstone of our public trust.
- Col John Cote,
Chief, Maine State Police