Mental Health Crises And Bar Harbor Police

Chief asks for mental health liaison during budget presentation

BAR HARBOR—The Bar Harbor Police Department hopes to add a mental health liaison to its lineup of staff, Police Chief Jim Willis told the Town Council and Warrant Committee during budget sessions, Tuesday night.

Willis presented the department’s budget with Captain David Kerns, Special Services Lieutenant Chris Wharff, (harbormaster, cruise ship, parking).

“The mental health crisis system is really broken in Maine,” Willis said.

People in crisis can sit in the MDI Hospital’s emergency room for 7 to 10 days. Sometimes they might need to be restrained. Sometimes they might run out of the building. Willis said the department doesn’t always have the officers available to stand watch over those patients and the hospital has sometimes hired the sheriff’s department to come down to help when patients are warehoused at the hospital.

“It’s not working well,” he said and later added, “We’re not going there until they’re ready to pop.”

According to Ashley Abramson, writing for the American Psychological Association,

“It’s estimated that at least 20% of police calls for service involve a mental health or substance use crisis, and for many departments, that demand is growing. In a nationwide survey of more than 2,400 senior law enforcement officials conducted by Michael C. Biasotti, formerly of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police , and the Naval Postgraduate School, around 84% said mental health–related calls have increased during their careers, and 63% said the amount of time their department spends on mental illness calls has increased during their careers. More than half reported the increased time is due to an inability to refer people to needed treatment. Referring to appropriate mental health resources—and following up on progress—takes time and resources that already strained police, especially those from smaller departments, don’t always have.

“As a result, more police departments are teaming with mental health clinicians—including psychologists—out in the field or behind the scenes via crisis intervention training. When these groups collaborate well, people with mental illness in crisis can access mental health care more easily, police experience less trauma and stress, and clinicians have an opportunity to make an even bigger difference in the community. Early data also indicate that these partnerships are making communities healthier, safer, and more financially secure.”

Bar Harbor is not alone as it looks to works toward better policing solutions. The Waterville Police Department is currently hiring for a full-time mental health liaison. The application reads,

“The Waterville Police Department Mental Health Liaison is a non-clinical community outreach position responsible for identifying high end users of police services and making recommendations or referrals to help improve the circumstances of the individual’s life and reduce the need for a repeated law enforcement response.

“The ideal candidate will be able to identify persons struggling with mental illness, substance use disorder, or other situations, will have knowledge of community resources and the ability to communicate well with all members of the population.”

Currently there is a crisis worker on-call one day a week in Bar Harbor. She brings her duty phone to the police station for that day.  Sometimes when she comes in, Willis said, the officer on duty is waiting with a list of names for her to check. She does.

“What a great thing,” Willis said.

Willis added that since the program began, there have been thirty mental health incidences while she was in the building. She responds with the officer and finds a resolution  where often that person in crisis doesn’t end up in the hospital. The position, he said, is for the community to make sure the department is serving those in crisis better than they could otherwise.

According to a piece on “All Things Considered” by Eric Westervelt,

“Woefully inadequate mental health services across the country means police are usually the first to respond to someone in a mental health and/or substance abuse crisis. It’s estimated that those situations make up at least 20% of police calls for service. When done right, advocates say, mental health crisis teams remove police from responding, unless absolutely necessary.”

If the money to support the position wasn’t taken from the general fund, the town could take some of it from ARPA for FY 24. Mount Desert would pay 40% and Bar Harbor 60%


Council Chair Valerie Peacock said it was an amazing idea. Council Vice Chair Matt Hochman also voiced his support saying that it’s a position that transcends the budget. “There are so many news reports about people with a mental health issue ending up in tragic circumstances for themselves and the community.”

“Not every police station lets mental health workers come in and sit next to the cops,” but their staff welcome it, Willis says.

If approved, the position would “further the successful trial” with AMHC that is currently occurring. Mount Desert would fund 40% of the total $104,726 expense. Aroostook Mental Health Services, Inc. (AMHC) is a non-profit community mental health center that provides behavioral healthcare.

police department revenues per town budget documents

The following images are police and dispatch expenses per the town budget documents.


The police department has withdrawn its request for a combined dispatch supervisor. They are working with town staff and potentially using the dark fiber to connect Mount Desert Police Department to the municipal building. Similarly, he’d like to postpone continuing with a study about moving the police department out of its current building. There is a building study that was done in 2012 that essentially said to tear down the public safety building, he said.

“We’re still in the building,” Willis said, but he doesn’t believe it’s the right time to continue with a study for its potential replacement because of the town’s other budgeting needs.  

All police officers are sworn in with authority to both Bar Harbor and Mount Desert, but paid separately. Supervisors are on duty from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. The towns have three patrol zones instead of town lines, which enhances response times, he said, and have been doing this for ten years.  

“We don’t make you a lot of money,” Willis said. He asked that the outside detail rate be raised to $100 from $75, which would mean the officers would get $75 an hour for those details.

The police department’s capital improvement program request is down by $36,820. Last year the department purchased two cars. There is nothing new added to the equipment list for the upcoming year.

The harbormaster’s capital improvement program request is up $12,000 to replace the fishermen’s hoist and another increase for the ferry terminal lot’s surface. Willis was unsure about the ferry terminal lot increase in the harbormaster’s budget. He said that he’ll look into it and there could potentially be an adjustment there.


There is a proposed increase in parking revenue that could potentially be placed within the budget. There are increased capital needs for road and sidewalk infrastructure, paving the ballfields, surface upgrades at the Ferry Terminal parking lot and a proposed extension of the shared use path on Eden Street and sidewalk expansion on Rodick Street. Parking fees collected from meters fund those projects.

Eben Salvatore, a member of the Warrant Committee and chair of the Parking Solutions Task Force said that the task force and town have always built in the ability to manage the rates and there is a lot of usage data to strategically manage the rate and suggested that the task force come up with a plan.


All slides in this section are via presentation and available at town website.


For years, the cruise ship budget has existed in the town manager’s budget, Willis said.

The Cruise Ship Committee had recommended that $25,000 be allocated to commercial fisherman for hoist repairs, damaged floats, and lost gear. The budget recommends part-time staff and operating supplies to monitor passenger disembarkation at roughly $17k.

All images in this section are from the town’s budget documents available on its website.

The fund supports multiple lines in the town’s budget as shown in town documents above.

Wharf said there are a lot of different variables and its extremely complicated trying to determine the cruise ship fee number. They chose to go with a low number for revenue. Councilor Gary Friedmann said that there are so many unknowns in the cruise ship schedule that the difference in revenue between projects and actuals could be between $100,000 and $200,000.

Willis said the number was a conservative approach that they created with Town Manager Kevin Sutherland prior to his departure.


Chris Graten, director of operations and finance at the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, and Nina Barufaldi St Germain, former president and member of the board requested for its funding levels from the town to return to pre-pandemic amounts. The chamber reached almost 4 million people last year. The visitor center numbers have decreased slightly, they said. The Chamber’s funding for Wayfinder (helping visitors determine where they are going) mostly comes from the cruise ship fund.

In 2021 the chamber received no money from the town despite being the busiest season. The chamber adapted to the lack of funding by using the resources for membership cultivation and the chamber’s own stabilization of continued existence.

All images in this section are from the Chamber’s presentation

The hope is to be funded at pre-pandemic levels again. Funds from the Parks and Recreation budget support the Seaside Cinema events, a portion of the fireworks, and decorations for Village holidays. The organization is also supported by its 382 current members.

This is the third of a series of articles stemming from Tuesday night’s budget meeting. It was all too much for one article. Apologies.

Also, these are not the only articles about the budget that will occur.

Disclosure: For a very short time, I was a part-time emergency services dispatcher for the Town of Mount Desert.


Police Department Presentation – View presentation video (1:14:02)

Cruise Ship Presentation – View presentation video (1:46:01)

Chamber of Commerce Presentation – View presentation video (1:50:32) 

Parking Presentation – View presentation video (1:50:32) 


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