2018-04-12 / Front Page

Public reviews Biddeford PD

By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The Biddeford Police Department started the voluntary process of Law Enforcement Accreditation in 2016, and on Sunday, April 8, the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies arrived in Biddeford for a three-day visit. As part of the visit, the organization hosted a public forum Monday, April 9 for the community to express opinions about the police department.

The forum remained primarily positive, with residents and business owners coming forward, each person allotted 10 minutes to speak on their experiences with the police department. Biddeford City Clerk Carmen Morris said her experience with officers has been pleasant and she appreciates all they do for the community. Specifically, Morris said the police department now sells beach permits on evenings and weekends when the clerk’s office is closed.

“They set a high bar for professional public service,” Morris said.

Biddeford resident Kathy Russell also praised the police department, but warned the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies about ensuring that there are controls in place for the department, as well as unbiased investigations when needed.

Katie Pinard, owner of Elements: Coffee Books Beer, shared her experience about the Biddeford Police Department after being physically assaulted on the premises of her business in 2016.

“They helped debrief the situation not only with me, but also with my staff on how to move forward, and how to feel safe in the building again,” Pinard said. “It was a comfort to me.”

Not all public commentary was positive, however.

Matt Lauzon, Biddeford native and current District 12 House of Representatives candidate, spoke about his experiences with the police department. Lauzon is involved in litigation against the department, Chief Roger Beaupre and a former police officer who he alleges molested him when he was a teenager. Because of this, Lauzon said he was limited in what he could say. Three other men are also suing the city, police chief and two former officers.

Aside from litigation regarding the alleged sexual abuse cases against the department, it is also engaged in a lawsuit with Biddeford resident Susan Johnson. According to court documents, Johnson is suing the police department, Beaupre and officers Edward Dexter and Jacob Wolterbeek, as well as the Maine Department of Public Safety and Commissioner John E. Morris. Johnson was involved in a December 2012 shooting in which an altercation with her landlord, James Pak, shot her in the shoulder and shot her son Derrick Thompson, 19, and his girlfriend Alivia Welch, 18, killing them both. She alleges that the officers in question were negligent in failing to check Pak’s apartment or make an arrest when Pak made threats against the plaintiff, and that neither were properly trained or supervised. Pak is serving two life sentences for the deaths of Welch and Derrick Thompson, and an additional 30 years for wounding Susan Johnson. This case is ongoing and currently unresolved.

A man calling himself an advocate and who didn’t identify himself during public comment, said he previously requested that in addition to the oath of office that Biddeford officers swear when they join the police force, they also make a pledge to not use their power of office to sexually abuse children. This, he believes, will make a stand in the eyes of the state that Biddeford takes sexual assault against children seriously. The man declined to give his name when approached by a reporter after the meeting.

Although Lauzon’s comments were selfcensored, he touched on what he said is a recurring theme in Biddeford politics: lack of transparency in government. Lauzon told the Commission of Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies that he believed it “may not be getting the full picture” from the forum because it was not well publicized. Lauzon said in other municipalities the commission visited for public forums, local government announced notices on social media and municipal websites. Lauzon said the city should have included the forum in its weekly newsletter, the Biddeford Beat. However, it was included in both the April 2 and April 9 issues of the newsletter.

At the closing of Lauzon’s allotted time, he said while Biddeford has a reputation for being unsafe, he very rarely feels unsafe walking city streets at night.

“I feel like that’s a testament for our police department,” Lauzon said. “Biddeford is much safer than it gets credit for.”

If the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies finds that the Biddeford Police Department is in compliance at the end of the process, the police department will be awarded accreditation, which means the city of Biddeford meets national standards of law enforcement.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

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