In recognition of National Police Week and the upcoming 2024 election cycle, we sat down with Major Christopher Grotton, former Maine State Police Department Sergeant, to recognize the work of law enforcement officers and the sacrifices they make, including their contribution to keeping our elections safe and secure.
Can you describe your current or past role in law enforcement?
I joined the state police in 1989 and I spent 31 years there. In Maine, we were the largest agency. We do general service police work — everything from the patrol to investigating almost all homicides. I spent the last 19 years of my career as a commissioned officer and I did a wide variety of different commands including traditional supervisory management and leadership. As I moved up in my career, I became more involved in our business processes and I manage a pretty wide variety of technology projects.
I spent nearly 19 years representing the governor’s office and law enforcement in work with the Maine legislature, dealing with everything from privacy issues, fusion center issues, and a variety of other policy and legislative initiatives.
My work with elections occurred when I took over our state’s fusion center.1 We needed to rebuild, redefine, and reenergize what a fusion center meant to our state while navigating federal guidelines and privacy protections. We had to balance preserving people’s privacy while also being an effective intelligence conduit between the federal government and public-private sectors in Maine.
After that, I was promoted to the rank of Major and served in that role for the last 10 years of my career. I was responsible for managing about half the agency. I retired from there in fall of 2020.
With respect to your law enforcement experience and role as a member of CSSE, why do you think it is important that our elections are free, fair, and secure?
There is nothing more central to our way of life than democracy. Democracy is the principle that our country was founded upon. If our citizens don’t have the sense that they have an opportunity to participate and be represented fairly and safely, then that tears apart the fabric of who we are as a nation. Pre-2020, I’m not sure any of us would have been able to sense the concerns that many people associate now with going to a polling place and participating in that process. We really need to fix that. And we need to get to a point where people feel encouraged to participate in our democratic process.
So many of our communities, especially here in Maine, rely on volunteers to be the engine that makes elections happen. We can’t have those folks feeling unsafe or uncomfortable in that role. Not only do we need to protect voters, but we also need to invest in the people that are the driving force behind election administration. At CSSE, we feel that we can better prepare law enforcement officers and election officials to achieve those common goals.
What value have you observed in partnerships between law enforcement and election officials? Feel free to share an example of how you have worked with election officials in your role in law enforcement.
I look forward to working with our election officials and improving that partnership. One piece of that partnership is sharing knowledge and experience to find the best way to come together and contribute to this model of safety. Over the years, I’ve seen silos between election officials and law enforcement. Folks outside those silos may not understand the challenges and the responsibilities that come with the role. Both sides can benefit from a more full understanding and the way responsibilities vary between jurisdictions and states.
That requires education. That requires preparation. When you have an established relationship and an understanding of your common goals before an incident occurs, it’s much easier to find a solution.
Can you share some of your proudest accomplishments in your law enforcement experience where you feel you supported and advanced democracy?
I think probably my best example is through some of the work with the Maine legislature over the years on firearm policies, privacy, fusion center issues, and other policies. Those efforts bring together people with very disparate views from law enforcement, advocates, and the impacted communities. I’ve always found that getting those people around the table and having good open honest discussions allows us to achieve compromise. In the long run, we can achieve good policy with this approach in the state of Maine and across the country. It really comes down to that core of what our democratic democratic process should be all about.
Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share about National Police Week?
As we look at what law enforcement was designed to do, and you look at the best parts of what some amazing men and women do every day, we’re really talking about protecting democracy and people’s safety when engaging with the democratic process. I used to tell people that the best thing about being a police officer is that, ideally, you get to be the person that restores order and makes things better. It’s a little idealistic, but that’s really what it should be all about.
When it comes to our elections, we find ourselves in chaotic times. We need to fix it and that effort takes people who are willing to step up. That’s what police officers do — put themselves on the line for what matters. I don’t think that, years ago, any of us would have felt like an electoral venue is a place where we need to do that but unfortunately it is. We find ourselves in very strange times and law enforcement needs to step up and ensure that folks don’t feel intimidated, and don’t feel that they can’t express their views and vote openly and honestly.
Learn more about the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections here.
1 Source: Department of Homeland Security – Fusion Centers are state-owned and operated centers that serve as focal points in states and major urban areas for the receipt, analysis, gathering and sharing of threat-related information between State, Local, Tribal and Territorial (SLTT), federal and private sector partners.