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Pulitzer Center Update January 12, 2021

Maine Lawmakers Want to Strengthen Police Oversight Following Pulitzer Center-Supported Investigation

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A Maine State Police cruiser is shown outside the Penobscot County Jail on May 12, 2020. Image by Natalie Williams/Bangor Daily News
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In 2017, the top elected officials in Maine's westernmost county took a rare vote to ask the...

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Illustration by Natalie Williams / The Bangor Daily News. United States, undated.
Illustration by Natalie Williams / The Bangor Daily News. United States, undated.

Maine lawmakers are proposing several bills in the 2021 legislative session aimed at increasing police oversight following the Bangor Daily News' Pulitzer Center-supported project, Lawmen Off Limits. The bills would allow judges to place sheriffs suspected of wrongdoing on administrative leave, give Maine's police overseer the authority to punish officers for a wider range of misconduct, and require police agencies to thoroughly check the backgrounds of officers before hiring them.

Currently, only the governor can remove sheriffs from their posts, but no one has the authority to suspend them. Under state law, the Maine Criminal Justice Academy can only discipline officers for criminal conduct, with just a few exceptions. And failure to properly vet officers, caused in part by the prevalence of confidentiality agreements, has allowed some officers to be hired by a new police agency after being fired for misconduct from their previous one.

The Bangor Daily News' investigative series on Maine law enforcement exposed these issues and more, prompting lawmakers to push for reform.

"A pretty large part of my inspiration on this was the series [the Bangor Daily News] ran over the last few months regarding officers that were not behaving properly," state Rep. David McCrea told the newspaper. McCrea is sponsoring a bill to increase the Maine Criminal Justice Academy's authority to discipline serious non-criminal misconduct. "I don't know of anyone that was not incensed by that behavior."

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