L.L.Bean Discounts and Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
By Roberta Scruggs
Created Jun 18 2008 - 1:59pm
There's a fine line between appreciating law enforcement officers and influencing them. An anonymous letter writer just told Gov. John Baldacci that the state steps over that line when it allows Maine game wardens to accept discounts of 20 to 40 percent on L.L. Bean merchandise.
The writer clearly realized that not signing his (or her) name damaged his credibility because the May 26th letter starts with an apology. He apparently didn't realize a similar discount program is available for Marine Resources, Conservation and Baxter State Park employees. Nor did he get all his facts right. Yet even though everyone from the governor's office on down told me there's really nothing to worry about, I think the letter writer brought up, as one warden put it, "a really interesting question."
I was cc-ed on the letter, which arrived with the policy on the L.L. Bean discounts. They're available to all employees at Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the savings can be substantial. For a $299 L.L. Bean bicycle, a 40 percent discount would save $119. A 33.3 percent discount on a $1249 canoe would add up to $416. Even with just a 20 percent discount, buying a $449 rifle at the Freeport store would save $90.
The letter writer expressed "great disappointment" that IFW condones a special benefit for employees "whose work involves the very industry L.L. Bean does business in. Further, this special financial favor is given to Maine Game Wardens who by their very training know the negative connotations this will likely have with Maine Citizens and Taxpayers."
In the 1990s, the letter said, leaders within Maine's law enforcement community quietly developed policies to end special treatment for officers. "Many in doing so recalled painfully the negative light Maine Police were cast (in) during the Warren Cole affair…"
Warren Cole, a restaurant owner in Gray, was a child molester, but also donated to many worthy causes, including an annual banquet for the Maine State Police. Cole had close ties to law enforcement officers, who ate free at his restaurant and played poker in his apartment upstairs. So Cole's victims thought police would not believe them or investigate him, according to a 2002 story by Greg Kesich of the Press Herald.
"That point was driven home in 1981, when a drunken 11-year-old named Michael Lally ran onto a highway at night, was struck by a car and killed," Kesich wrote. "Deputies investigating the case never questioned Cole, who was taking care of Lally that night, or told Lally's parents that their son was drunk when he died."
Even a decade later, when two adults told a Maine State Police detective that Cole had molested them as children, the detective didn't investigate. So they went to the Cumberland County district attorney, who did. Cole eventually admitted molesting more than 20 children over decades. Most cases were beyond the statute of limitations, so Cole pled guilty in 1992 to sexual assault against a single victim. Released from prison in 1996, Cole died in 2004 at age 84.
The criminal and civil statutes of limitations on sex crimes involving children were lifted in 1992. Officers of the Maine State Police and Cumberland County Sheriff's Department stopped accepting free meals and other gifts.
Stephen McCausland, a spokesman for the state police, said last week," Our policy is we do not accept anything that is not offered to the general public."
The anonymous letter writer thought the "vast majority" of Maine law enforcement agencies concurred that "acceptance of special financial favor simply because one carries a badge is not in keeping with the high ethical standards expected of Maine Police Officers." He also thought IFW officials recently "resurrected" the L.L. Bean discount.
Well, he was wrong. L.L. Bean has offered these discounts for decades. They're also available to "conservation partners," such as the Maine Professional Guides Association, according to John Oliver, vice president of public affairs for L.L. Bean. The discounts are intended to show appreciation for those who protect Maine's natural resources, help them do their jobs and enjoy their leisure time, Oliver said.
IFW's policy changed in March only because employees now get discounts at the Freeport retail store; other departments' workers only get discounts on mail-order items. That change was made because last fall the retail store began carrying items with IFW's logo, such as T-shirts and hats.
"Since we're carrying their products there, we wanted them to be able to come to the store," Oliver said.
The state agencies don't have regulatory authority over L.L. Bean, so Oliver doesn't see anything wrong with the discounts. He also considers it a very big stretch to link them to the Cole case.
IFW Commissioner Danny Martin, Col. Joel Wilkinson and Major Gregg Sanborn of the Maine Warden Service did not respond to calls or emails. But David Farmer, Baldacci's communications director, said the attorney general's office looked into the discounts in the past and "there's nothing inappropriate going on here … L.L. Bean is a good corporate citizen of the state and they support the folks who work in the outdoors in the state. We don't see anything wrong with that."
Many businesses offer such discounts and each law enforcement agency makes its own policy about accepting them, said Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association.
"I think these stores really want to show their appreciation to the public safety officers of the state," Schwartz emailed me, "but there is always the old saying if someone gives you something for nothing they expect something in return."
Yes, that's the catch and it's a big one. Some people don't expect anything in return, but some do. Most officers would never let a present or a perk influence them, but some would. The line between appreciation and influence can blur before anyone realizes it.
The Maine State Police are right. A badge shouldn't come with special benefits. The gain for employees is not worth the risk to public trust.
Roberta Scruggs has written about the Maine environment and laws governing its use and protection for more than two decades.