Local police protect and serve both on and off the Hill
Waterville has a population of roughly 16,000; however, on any given day, the Waterville Police Department (WPD) is burdened with the task of policing a population twice that size.
Police Chief Joseph Massey and Deputy Police Chief Charles Rumsey explain that Waterville is an important service center in the area with hospitals, restaurants, nightlife, two colleges, work, shopping and a methadone clinic. People come to Waterville from surrounding areas to take advantage of the city’s amenities. However, this influx of visitors puts a strain on the 30 police officers who are tasked with preventing crime in Waterville.
“The focus for us is to provide a level of public safety services that ensures that the community will feel safe,” Massey, who has worked for 25 years on the WPD force, said.
The WPD takes a multifaceted approach to crime in the area, including an enforcement component and an education component. Crimes against people are of highest priority in order to ensure the physical safety of citizens; then, order-maintenance crimes are addressed in order to ensure a certain quality of life. Drugs and underage drinking are also important issues for the Police Department.
In addition, Waterville has a high level of sex offenders and high-risk people in the area because of the resources available through the Police Department. Roughly 60 sex offenders are currently registered to live in the city.
“Waterville is a community where it is not so large that they get lost, but not so small that they stick out,” Massey said.
Order-maintenance crimes refer to those in which the police are called to take care of disorderly conduct, sometimes here on the Hill.
“When at two-o’clock in the morning, Colby students are partying too hard [and a student] is working, and they are going to work Monday through Friday and they are struggling and trying to keep ahead and they are being kept up all night by disorderly conduct type activities… it may seem minor to someone else, but it is a big issue to them when they have to get up tired and go to work because someone is disturbing their sleep,” Rumsey said.
Both Massey and Rumsey emphasize that the WPD prefers voluntary compliance with the laws rather than forceful compliance. They strive to do this with a community approach.
The South End Neighborhood Enhanced Police Officer Todd Burbank works primarily in this small community to enhance its citizens’ quality of life and to encourage compliance with the law.
The WPD partners with the community in other ways by relying on separate agencies or garnering personal relationships with members of the community.
“Today they are your patient or client; tomorrow they are our suspects,” Massey said in reference to WPD’s relationships with certain agencies.
Massey describes the WPD relationship with the College as one of understanding. “At times our relationship is difficult because of the different interests the College has in maintaining a safe campus up there, but they look at it from a different perspective and that’s always one of what is in the best interest of the students,” he said.
Massey explains that the WPD always tries to work with the administration and campus security to address issues the College brings to the community and to assist in any way possible. He emphasizes the value of the College to the Waterville community in the diversity that it brings to the area and his personal like of students’ community service work.
Massey acknowledges that the College is a home to students and infringing on their privacy is the last intention of the WPD. However, the primary purpose of the police is law enforcement, and the WPD is responsible for providing public safety.
“The number one reason that we interact with the student body up there is [underage drinking],” Rumsey said. Often the only interaction that students on the Hill have with the WPD is in regards to underage drinking. However, it does not comprise even a tenth of the activity of the WPD.
“Although some students think [Colby] is a sovereign little community, it’s not,” Massey added. “We can go on campus, we will go on campus, and we are responsible for crime on campus.”
As a result of the recent increase in illegal alcoholic consumption, the WPD takes a more proactive approach to the crime.
“It’s kind of nice to nip it in the bud and get someone early on and given them a summons and straighten them up and then they realize, ‘wow, I just got a summons, I got to go sober up,’” Massey said.
Rumsey emphasizes that students should realize that the WPD is not lurking around campus to punish any and all unlawful conduct.
“We have enough to do downtown that if we never went back on campus, that would be okay with us,” Massey said.
Underage drinking and drinking related crime in Waterville are not isolated to the College. The WPD is responsible for policing the varying population of young adults that frequent downtown.
“At night, we have all the bars that attract young adults to drink and not just Waterville, they come from Oakland, Winslow, Fairfield, they come from the whole surrounding area because if you are a young adult and you want to go out to a nice bar… you come to Waterville,” Massey said.
Last weekend, the WPD made over 20 physical arrests in town; not one involved a student from the College. In fact, the WPD had no contact with students from the College at all. While the vast majority of crime in Waterville occurs off of the Hill, WPD interaction with the school tends to gain more attention in the local press.
The WPD works to improve its relations with the College by speaking with student leaders and offering job shadowing and research opportunities.
“The real change needs to come from the students, and I think the students know that,” Massey said. “I think they quickly blame the WPD to deflect the real problem—[underage drinking].”
Rumsey wonders about the students’ perception of the WPD. He suspects that those who have been formerly charged feel negatively towards the Department, but he doesn’t understand why if they were knowingly conducting unlawful activity.
“It is kind of like do you have a problem with the officer that your are dealing with, or the department that they work for, or the laws that they are enforcing, because those are all different levels of concern,” Rumsey said. “Does there need to be a larger conversation about the way students feel about the law?”